OkDork.com http://okdork.com Noah Kagan's Blog About Marketing and More Fri, 22 Aug 2014 01:26:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 What Babysitting Taught Me About Business http://okdork.com/2014/08/13/what-babysitting-taught-me-about-business/ http://okdork.com/2014/08/13/what-babysitting-taught-me-about-business/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 21:26:08 +0000 http://okdork.com/?p=5673 My brother has a 3 month old baby and I volunteered to help watch him for a few days.

This is a picture after I got both shoulders puked on by baby Atlas.

He’s a cute kid and I figured I could leave the kid in his crib while I did my work and activities throughout the day.

Shit…I was completely wrong.

I used to think (in my ignorance) that people with kids were too lazy to start their own business.

I used to [...]]]> My brother has a 3 month old baby and I volunteered to help watch him for a few days.

This is a picture after I got both shoulders puked on by baby Atlas.

He’s a cute kid and I figured I could leave the kid in his crib while I did my work and activities throughout the day.

Shit…I was completely wrong.

I used to think (in my ignorance) that people with kids were too lazy to start their own business.

I used to say to them, “Just make more time.” or “You have to make it a priority!”

I apologize.

Fortunately, we always can learn from our mistakes.

Here are 9 things I learned about business from watching a baby for 4 days:

1. Time limitations increase productivity.

Baby Atlas did not care about my phone calls or my schedule. The 2 times a day he took naps were the only chances I got to work on my todos for the week. With that limited window, I made sure to list out my exact priorities for the day and reduced all distractions during that time. No Skype (sorry I can’t do a call or nope that article isn’t all that important). Basically, children are the ultimate lifehack. (Warning: I don’t encourage having a child just to increase your productivity :)

2. Do more of what works.

Most days I was feeding Atlas just 2 ounces of baby formula. Then I realized after I fed him 4 ounces of food that he would fall asleep sooner so I could work. Then for all future feedings I did my best to give him more food so he would fall asleep. The key thing for your business is identify what things are working well and find ways to do more of that.

3. Most times you’re uncomfortable there’s a simple problem to solve it.

Poop, food, burp, move. Those are the 4 key things. The only way a child can communicate a problem is to scream or cry–they can’t spell it out for you. In your business you may be hearing a problem you are ignoring. When looking at the fundamentals that can satisfy the child, it was frankly pretty simple. Diaper clean, check (it’s overrated how hard it is to change them), fed, check, burped check or move the child around. All done. Go back to the basics when you are trying to solve
problems. Keep it simple. .

4. Reduce your judgments of other people.

I never realized how tiring it is to take care of a baby in the morning, go to work, come home, clean, take care of the kid and then try to find time to start your own business. A few months ago, I saw a mother when I was getting my pedicure (only judge me a little bit) who was yelling at her 3 kids. I was thinking to myself, what a terrible mother. Now I know a little bit more about what she was going through. When you are interviewing someone, talking with a customer or dealing with a
co-worker, reduce your natural tendency to pass judgment. You don’t know what it’s like for them.

5. Enable learning triggers.

I didn’t have as much time for the gym so I chose to walk the baby in the morning. It was too hard to do my daily reading so I started to listen to podcasts instead. If you are driving, can you listen to an audio book instead of zoning out. Or if the kid is sleeping in your arms then put on a YouTube video of Jay Abrahams talking about marketing.

6. Ignore non-critical activities and pay someone to handle them.

When the baby was crying for food, I completely ignored washing the dishes. And I ignored the yard, the laundry, and everything else. The highest priority was making baby Atlas happy again. You start recognizing the highest value activities. For your business, figure out which activities are really generating you more money and which ones can you pay someone else to handle.

7. Prioritize yourself.

You know how airlines always tell you to put on your oxygen mask before you put it on your child? That’s true for life. If you don’t take the time to take care of yourself, you won’t be at your best to take care of your child. My brother gets up at 5am so he can make time to meditate and exercise. He knows that gives him more energy and he feels better all day which translates to how he treats his child.

8. Adapt to your limitations.

I typed one-handed when I was feeding the kid. You are going to be constrained in your business, everyone is limited in some way. Figure out how you can work with that situation and still get work done, even if it’s at 50%. Maybe I could have use dictation software or done more phone calls during feeding.

9. Take baby selfies.

Take a lot of these. People love them. That’s all. :) Like a successful business, people only see the good times—not the hardwork that goes into them.

* * *

In the words of the great Ali G to all the parents starting or running their own businesses, “Respect!”

If you’re a parent and you run a business of any size, please leave a comment and share the lessons you’ve learned about business from raising your kids.


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The 6 Step Guide to Getting Free Press for Your Startup http://okdork.com/2014/08/12/how-to-do-pr-for-your-startup-without-spending-any-money/ http://okdork.com/2014/08/12/how-to-do-pr-for-your-startup-without-spending-any-money/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 21:23:48 +0000 http://okdork.com/?p=5620 To be honest, I wanted to not like the guest post you’ll read today.

“PR” can be terribly boring. Before I started reading it, I decided that I wasn’t going to share it.

But when I started reading, I kept reading.

Dmitry is an experienced PR marketer and OkDork reader. He runs JustReachout.io which provides 1 on 1 help for startups writing email pitches and finding most relevant reporters.

His post builds on many of the other posts we’ve featured this year.

You’ll [...]]]> To be honest, I wanted to not like the guest post you’ll read today.

“PR” can be terribly boring. Before I started reading it, I decided that I wasn’t going to share it.

But when I started reading, I kept reading.

Dmitry is an experienced PR marketer and OkDork reader. He runs JustReachout.io which provides 1 on 1 help for startups writing email pitches and finding most relevant reporters.

His post builds on many of the other posts we’ve featured this year.

You’ll learn:

* How to make sure people remember what it is your startup actually does

* Find the reporters that can actually help you (and you can, in turn, help them)

* Get featured on the sites you want for your business



* * *

Every week I get at least two emails from startups asking me to help them “build buzz” around their product or service. Most of them want PR help but since it’s so prohibitively expensive to hire a PR firm startups are really struggling in this space. They want and need PR buzz but can’t afford expensive agencies. What to do?

For the past 8 years I’ve been doing my own PR without hiring anybody else to help me and it has worked beautifully for me. I have given a lot of talks on the topic, written guest articles about the general approach I take and recorded a short little course on Udemy about how I do my own PR. I’ve even helped Noah back when AppSumo was just starting out get some buzz to a deal we were running with them.

So I decided why not lay out a step by step how to guide of how to do PR for your startup without spending any money. Ready? Lets roll.

1. Perfect Your One Sentence Pitch

First step is to nail down your one sentence pitch. Be able to answer what you do in 1 sentence. Use this template below:

My Company  <name> is developing <offering> to help <target audience> <solve a problem> with <a secret sauce>.

courtesy of Adeo Ressi of Founder’s Institute. I’ve used this for years and years.

Plain and simple just fill in the blanks and keep all the jargon away. Make pure and simple. Let’s look at a few examples of a good one sentence pitch vs. bad one.

Good example #1 – Airbnb

Find a place to stay.

Good example #2  – Airto

Airto, is developing a web-based social seating check-in platform to help air travelers see who is on board their flight and use Facebook and LinkedIn to assign all flight seats with one click.

Bad Example #1 – I won’t name the company

We are a data integration social analytics company which helps you connect with your prospective leads, we use different data sources to aggregate data centrally and provide easy to read reports to personify each and every lead which comes to your site. 

Dang, that is a mouth full of a sentence and I still have no idea what these guys do. Seems like it’s a lead prospecting tool but again very hard to understand what this does and why people will use it.

Bad Example #2 – I won’t name the company

We are a web analytics platform designed to give you business intelligence to close your next deal. 

This is short and that’s good but it leaves me still deliberating what this thing does and who will use it for which purpose.

So nail this down and then practice your one sentence pitch with strangers, make sure your grandmother or mother understands your one sentence and you’re golden.

2. Make a Hit List of Most Relevant Reporters

Ok, now create a hit list of reporters you want to reach out to. You want to find reporters that are very much related to what your product/app/service does. In my case it’s PR. Here is how I do it. I go to Google News and type in “startup pr”.  I get the following back:

Result as First Hit List

I use the results as my first hit list, these are reporters or contributors to publications who have written about “PR tips for startups” which is exactly what my tool is all about. Chances are if I reach out to them to let them know about my tool they would find it interesting.

I copy the reporter name and link to the article into a spreadsheet and keep searching.

Now let’s say you can’t find good results on Google News for the keyword you enter. It might happen that there are not many recent news articles about your topic. In this case use regular Google search to do the same. Here is what I get back when I search for “PR tips for startups”:

PR Tips for Startups

Again I add the name of the reporter and a link to the article to my spreadsheet.

Now most of the time Google gives you a good hit list but sometimes you want more. In that case I like to Buzzsumo the sucker.

Buzzsumo is awesome sauce since it shows you the most shared articles on the topic so thats the best! Here I am checking out results for the same term “startup pr” and my hitlist of reporters to go after:

Buzzsumo PR Results

And here is my compiled spreadsheet of all the reporters I am going to go after, I have 21 reporters here, this is a working list of course.

My job is to find 5-10 new reporters a day and add them in here. Sometimes I start googling a competitor in my space “tool for PR” or actual names of companies: “PressFriendly”, etc to see who has covered them, I’ll then add reporters who have covered them to the list.

The biggest issue with this approach is to figure out how often the reporter you found actually writes about the topic you found the article about. Sometimes writers get randomly assigned something outside of their beat, out of need from the publication. Other times, they decide just to cover something once to learn something new and they have no intention of covering it again.

You see the notes section in my spreadsheet? That’s where I add in details about them after I look at their profile. What types of articles have they been writing? What’s their usual beat? Who are they? My research helps me write my email to them.

Here is an example. I add this article into my spreadsheet:


After I read through it I know this is spot on to what I’m doing with my tool, but is this typically what this author covers? This is a blog for a VC firm. So I start digging a little more into who this person really is.

I read about her on the bio page: http://firstround.com/team/Camille_Ricketts

I google her and check out her past articles on VentureBeat:


Also her articles on HuffPo:


Here Slideshare:


I look through her social media:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/camillericketts

Twitter: https://twitter.com/camillericketts

I’m starting to get a sense of who she is. She is not a PR person, she is a startup person. She loves to cover startups. She used to do just news and now her beat is more of how to build successful startups since she works at a VC firm and runs content for them.

So this spreadsheet is usually about 40-50 people by the time I start. Can be less but I like to shoot for at least 40. These are highly relevant reporters to what I’m going to pitch them.

Ok, now that you know who to reach out to you need to write an email pitch and figure out the best time to pitch them.

3. Write an Email Pitch

Before I’ll show you examples I just want you to remember:

  • Use email to pitch. 81% of writers prefer to be pitched on email.
  • Email should be 200 words or less. 88% of writers prefer a pitch be less than 200 words.
  • Subject line is key. 85% of writers open email based on subject line.
  • Subject should be 45-65 characters. Your subject line should be: direct, concise and descriptive.

Usually your email pitch should have the following in it, (but it’s OK to omit some of these to make it short and more personable):

  • How does your startup/pitch relate to what the reporter has written about before and the news today?
  • Your startup Name:
  • Your website URL
  • CrunchBase Profile URL if pitching TC
  • Description of your startup in 75 words or fewer from your 1 sentence pitch section
  • Possibly founders’ bios in 75 words or fewer.
  • Have you launched?
  • Your main competitors? and why are you better?
  • Got funding, yes or not? If yes, from who and how much. TC won’t cover you if you have undisclosed funding.

I’ve used different variations of the following email pitch template for years and years. Here it is:

Subject: Re: <Story Title From Google Doc above>

Hey <First Name>,

My name is [first name] from [company name]. After reading your article {{ story.title }} I thought your readers might be interested to hear more about [topic from their article which relates to what you're pitching] since the subject of [general topic from the article] has been in the news lately as you’ve probably seen. Looking over your bio and past articles sounds like you cover [topic from the article] a lot.

We developed a technology that… <insert your one sentence pitch here>.

We have some <insert your news/study> which relates directly to your interests and I wanted to shoot over info/details for you to review/check out. Let me know if you’d be interested?


<Your full name>

<contact info>

Here is a real life example of me pinging someone from the Google Doc above:

Subject: Made an app based on your article:10 Essential PR Tips for Startups

Hey Erica-

A while back, back in 2011 that is (so not that long ago) you wrote an article for Mashable about PR tips for startups:http://mashable.com/2011/10/10/pr-startups/ What you said in there was near and dear to my heart, and it prompted me to build a tool for startups to do their own PR instead of hiring firms based on exact tips you outline in there.  Here is a bit about it:


Would love to hear your feedback about the tool: http://justreachout.io


Her response:

Hi Dmitry,

Lovely to see a Boston entrepreneur doing interesting things. The idea of the tool is interesting (and a nice start). But have you used MuckRack? It’s much more powerful, in my opinion. Looking forward to your thoughts.



Here is another example:

Subject: Re: Why Your Startup Shouldn’t Hire a PR Firm

Hey Stephen-

Your article on FastCo prompted me to finally finish up building a tool for startups to do their own PR instead of hiring firms. Everything you say in there is near and dear to my heart. In fact, I wrote an article with a similar title:


Would love to hear your feedback about the tool: http://justreachout.io

His response:


This is awesome! Really. Let me know if you need me to test it out at all. Great article too. Are you in NYC any time soon? We should meet up for a beer.


Stephen Robert Morse

Now here is a different example. I saw an article which had something I can pitch him that he’d love that is related to what he wrote about so I reached out.

Subject: talking gumby webcams and much more my man

Hey Andrew-

Respect your writing a bunch, I’m an old acquaintance of Adam Pash of Lifehacker, love you guys’s work at Gizmodo as well, check in every other day. Saw something you’d dig, wanted to pass it on. In relation to your post on webcams from Feb:


I saw this little hacking guide/video on how to “actually look good on webcam” which was just published, figured you’d dig, wanted to shoot this over:


Curious to hear your thoughts about it, I thought they bring up pretty good points, no?



Hey Dmitry,

Thanks for the compliments and reaching out. Neat video, great points in it, I’ve heard good things about using iGlasses for tweaking your webcam’s image, have you used it much? It is pretty pricey I believe.


They are a bit pricey I guess, it’s all relative. I have not used iGlasses app myself yet. I heard it’s the best though. There are a number of free alternatives though, have you seen this list?




Oh, thanks for that list Dmitry. Lots of free alternatives to that app in the list, I’ll have to give some of these a try. That Cheese app looks neat.


Here is another example (I love to use typos to start conversations):

Hey Anita-

Respect your reporting a great deal, love the stories you put out. Crazy to think that there are more people using mobile vs. desktop now. Saw that you have a few spelling mistakes in your recent article, wanted to follow up:

“The project, which was was announced”

“The content will be used for The New York Times’”

Looking forward to your next stories. What are you working on next?



Hi Dmitry,

Thanks for the kind words and catches-unfortunately, blogging increases the chances of typos!

Working on a piece about Mobile First approach currently.




Oh neat, you know there was a pretty interesting piece which was published by founder/author of Mobile First on AListApart titled Sign Up Forms Must Die, have you seen this?




Thanks for sending this, I did not but it’s a neat approach he is talking about. Gradual engagement has been widely talked about recently. Do you know Luke personally?


You starting to get how this works? Hopefully these email examples give you an idea of how to construct your own email pitch.

In any case, onward. Now you got the Google Doc hit list and you know how to write an email. Next up – figure out the best time to reach out.

4. Figure Out The Best Time To Reach Out

When is best to email a reporter? I say 6:30am or 7am their local time.

69% of journalists prefer to be pitched in the morning. So the goal here is to make sure you’re the most recent email in their inbox when they check their email.

What I do is look at their tweeting patterns, how early do they start sending out tweets? If they are sending tweets out they for sure have checked their email at least once that morning to make sure there is nothing crazy urgent they need to attend to. Usually if you’re tweeting you checked your email.

I use YesWare which is awesome sauce for checking to see if and when and how many times recipients open your email. I also use Boomerang to schedule my emails to go out at a specific time.

Aight, now you have a hit list of relevant reporters, you got a good email written, you know the perfect time to email them. Next up – you need their email address.

5. Guess Reporter’s Email Address 

Ok, there are about a million ways to guess a reporter’s email. First thing is to look at the article itself and their bio on publication page and Twitter. If email is not listed there do the following:

Watch this video of how to do this:

To do this you need:

  • A Gmail account, if you don’t have one already (most people do)
  • The Rapportive plugin from Rapportive.com to get rich contact information inside Gmail
  • The Google Doc spreadsheet at bit.ly/name2email

This works pretty well and I’ve been using it for years. Now if you want to save some time and use a tool which does this automatically and actually verifies emails by pinging the server with different email heuristics combinations I would use one of these tools:

You just type in the first name and last name and domain (i.e. publication they write for or gmail.com) and the tool does its thing and gives you the email address.

6. Reach Out

Aight you ready? This is it. You have a list of relevant reporters based on your topic. You wrote a good email, you know the best time to reach out to them (around 6:30am or so). You have their email address. Go ahead and do your thing.

This is it folks. I’m not going to write a long conclusion because the goal of this article is to get out there and take action. These are the steps you go through to do your own PR for free.

If you do this not only will you save tons of money but you will own these relationships with reporters yourselves! :)

Happy emailing!

Leave a question or comment below!

If you are going to bitch about something don’t bother reaching out. :) As Noah likes to say, “Hugs, Dmitry”. :)

OkDork is offering a free code to readers to Access Dmitry’s Udemy course about Startup PR.
Click above to get your code for free access.
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What You Can Learn from KISSmetrics’ SEO Strategy http://okdork.com/2014/08/06/a-complete-audit-of-kissmetrics-seo-and-inbound-marketing/ http://okdork.com/2014/08/06/a-complete-audit-of-kissmetrics-seo-and-inbound-marketing/#comments Wed, 06 Aug 2014 21:21:20 +0000 http://okdork.com/?p=5517 Have you ever noticed how much advice about SEO and Social Sharing is completely wasted? It’s amazing to me how many people can write about strategies, best practices, and go on preaching without showing exactly how it’s done.

Eli Overbey has provided an incredible post about the website KISSmetrics. In fact, if you’ve ever wondered how to do an audit, detailed analysis, or strategy document…wonder no more.

It’s all in the nearly 9,000 word document below.

(If you want an audit [...]]]> Have you ever noticed how much advice about SEO and Social Sharing is completely wasted? It’s amazing to me how many people can write about strategies, best practices, and go on preaching without showing exactly how it’s done.

Eli Overbey has provided an incredible post about the website KISSmetrics. In fact, if you’ve ever wondered how to do an audit, detailed analysis, or strategy document…wonder no more.

It’s all in the nearly 9,000 word document below.

(If you want an audit of your own website, you can contact Eli Overbey here.)

* * *

(Read to the bottom to download ALL 24 Tools to Perform Your Own Audit plus get Eli’s audit as a PDF)

In this post, I will provide a comprehensive technical Inbound audit for KISSmetrics. This example is extremely detailed, and it covers a wide range of inbound topics. But before the inbound marketing audit, let’s cover the basics…

Who is KISSmetrics? 

KISSmetrics is a web analytics solution that helps companies make smarter business decisions, and boosting ROI.

Headquartered in San Francisco, KISSmetrics is backed by a syndicate of angels and early stage funds.

Why Audit KISSmetrics?

Like everyone working in SEO and Inbound Marketing, we all overlook or miss things (even basic things). The goal of this post is to help KISSmetrics, to help others learn from their inbound successes (they’ve done remarkable things in this arena), and to give a third-party perspective on a great example.

To be fair, “audit” seems like a terrible word, but in this case, think of “audit” as “being helpful.” The purpose of this audit is to give an outsider’s view to a great company. All in all, I hope this helps KISSmetrics. Neil and team are outstanding.


Before I jump into the technical details of the inbound audit, it’s important to note that I have no affiliation with KISSmetrics (I am also not currently a user of their product – so you don’t have to worry about affiliate links). KISSmetrics also did not ask me to complete this audit. As a result, I don’t have access to any of the site’s analytics or webmaster tools accounts, and I don’t have access to the site’s content management system (CMS).

In a typical audit, I would begin by sifting through the data and then narrowing in on problem issues. So… if I make completely inaccurate observations, I blame my data from the third party tools, ie (Searchmetrics, Ahrefs, SEMrush, Moz, etc…). Don’t get me wrong – these tools are awesome, but they generally work better from the inside of the company.

The goal of this audit is to help KISSmetrics. The aim is never to critique in a negative, harmful way, but to help promote KISSmetrics through inbound marketing by giving them the perspective of an objective third party. With those disclaimers out of the way, let’s begin.

*If you have any questions: @elioverbey

Since this post will be extremely long – here is a detailed navigation to help you understand where you are throughout this audit. As you will see, this audit will spend a majority of time on optimization (top of funnel), but lower areas of the funnel will be covered as well. The audit will work through four main areas as seen below: Optimization (Attract), Conversion, Customers, and Delight.

KISSmetrics Web Structure
Optimization / Attract

Search Visibility
Robots Meta Tag


Site Architecture
Authority Flow
Click Depth

On Page Factors

HTML Markup
Structured Data
Head Tags
Open Graph
Twitter Cards
Meta Descriptions
Duplicate Content
External Links

Off Page Factors

Backlink Distribution
Backlink Source
Anchor Link Analysis
Image Links

Conversion / Leads

Calls to Action
Landing Pages

Close / Customers

Contacts / Email


Social Media
Engaging Content


Indexability / KISSmetrics Web Structure

In order to understand this audit, you need to understand how KISSmetrics is set up. At first glance, you’ll notice that KISSmetrics is constructed using quite a few subdomains:

  • kissmetrics.com/ – 18 pages

○      *tweets.kissmetrics.com – 2587 Pages

○      blog.kissmetrics.com – 1,038 pages

○      *status.kissmetrics.com – 70 pages

○      grow.kissmetrics.com – 7 pages

○      focus.kissmetrics.com – 10 pages

○      support.kissmetrics.com – 347 pages

○      middleman.kissmetrics.com – 1 pages

○      styleguide.kissmetrics.com – 7 pages

○      uptime.kissmetrics.com – Redirects to status.kissmetrics.com

○      demo.kissmetrics.com – 100 pages

An * (asterisk) indicates that the subdomain is blocked by the robots.txt.

In total, KISSmetrics has 4,185 pages across 11 domains and subdomains. 

As you glance at the site structure of KISSmetrics, you notice that their content is divided up into subdomains. Due to the structure of KISSmetrics, this inbound audit will focus solely on two areas of their site: the root domain (kissmetrics.com) and their blog (blog.kissmetrics.com). The other subdomains do not contain information pertaining to this inbound audit (ie. styleguide) and will not be included in the analysis.

Inbound Marketing

In its most basic form:

“Inbound marketing focuses on earning, not buying, a person’s attention.”– Brian Halligan

The principle of inbound marketing has been around for years, but the term has been coined by HubSpot (well done Dharmesh and Brian). Inbound Marketing is all about creating great content that pulls people in.

Since HubSpot is the go-to on inbound, this audit will use their structure as a model. As this audit continues, you’ll notice how the funnel naturally works.

Inbound Marketing Funnel

Optimization / Attract

The first step in inbound marketing / SEO is attracting the right audience. Content is the single best way to attract new visitors to your website. In order to be found by the right prospective customers, KISSmetrics must not only create optimized content, but foster an environment in which content can thrive.

Search Visibility

In order to set the framework for the entire audit, it’s important to analyze the site’s performance. When looking at KISSmetrics’s traffic, there are 3 important questions:

  • Is the traffic growing?
  • Has the site been penalized?
  • What is the percentage of organic traffic?

To determine KISSmetrics’s traffic performance, I used two tools:

Searchmetrics Suit, and one of my new favorites, Similar Web. Finding accurate third party data is incredibly difficult, but after using Google Analytics on a network of sites, I’ve found that these two programs provide the most accuracy in capturing third-party data.

As you can see from the graph below, there are some red flags for KISSmetrics (the tools join all traffic from all subdomains together):

KISSmetrics SEO Visibility

As the graph above shows, the site’s visibility decreased dramatically after May 18, 2014. This date is important because it also corresponds to when Google updated Panda 4.0.

Immediately, there is cause for concern on KISSmetrics’s site. As you begin to look over the third-party data, there is a strong correlation between the data (although third party) and Google’s Panda update…

There are three possible solutions to this drop in traffic: 

  1. The data is inaccurate
  2. The site was algorithmically penalized due to duplicate content
  3. The site was algorithmically penalized due to guest bloggers   

The first possibility: The data from the third party is inaccurate. In fact, it seems highly improbable that KISSmetrics was hit with an algorithmic penalty, right? Neil Patel (co-founder of KISSmetrics and SEO expert) wrote an article for Search Engine Journal about the Panda 4.0 update the day after Panda 4.0 was released.

In the post, Neil describes the update, who was affected, and how to fix it. Does it not seem like KISSmetrics (his company) would be prepared for Panda? Since he knew so much about Panda, he would have protected his assets.

Besides that, KISSmetrics writes lengthy (2,000+ word average), unique content that is well received (only 12 of their articles don’t have any comments – meaning, the other 1,000+ have engagement via comments).

That is one possibility. But the other possibilities do cause for more concern:

The second possibility: KISSmetrics was hit by Panda 4.0 and here is the probable reason:

For some odd reason, the KISSmetrics blog exist on two protocols: http and https. Meaning, the same content (although unique and engaging) can technically be seen as duplicate.

Let’s look at an example. As of today, the most recent post from KISSmetrics is: Website Testing Mistakes That Can Damage Your Business (this post was chosen due to recency, but this same problem exists throughout). You can find this article in two places:

  • http://blog.kissmetrics.com/website-testing-mistakes/
  • https://blog.kissmetrics.com/website-testing-mistakes/

As you can see from the image below, the same page exists in two places (unfortunately, this is duplicate content and cause for concern):

KISSmetrics Dual URLs

You’ll notice that in the image above, on the left is the normal protocol (http://), and on the right is the secure protocol (https://). Google drops the http:// protocol in the browser on the left by default.

I also checked out the source code on this same page to find three problems that could have led to this drop in traffic on May 19th (Panda 4.0), I highlighted 3 key problems in the diagram below:

Panda 4.0 3 Key Problems KISSmetrics

  1. Once again, I highlighted the protocol so you can see the two exact pages in two locations.
  2. Both of these pages are INDEX, FOLLOW. If one of these pages was NOINDEX, there wouldn’t be a huge problem, but KISSmetrics is telling the search engines to index both of these pages. This is another red flag.
  3. The third red flag is the canonical. The canonical tag tells the search engines that a given page should be treated as though it were a copy of the URL. In this case, each page canonicals itself. One page says the content should canonical to http:// and the other page says the content should canonical to https://. Basically, each page is claiming original.

Finally, Google has noticed that the blog exists in two locations. As you can see below, a query for the blog brings back both protocols (http and https).

KISSmetrics Both Protocols Appear

This means that the KISSmetrics blog was probably hit by an algorithmic penalty on May 19th.  

Even if the third party data is wrong (and KISSmetrics was not hit by a penalty) they should fix these problems immediately. KISSmetrics should decide which URL is primary, and then 301 or canonical.

Even more, as it currently stands, the site is dispersing its links among https and http. If they fix this problem, the could see a rise in rankings due to the migration of their links.

The third possibility: KISSmetrics was hit by Panda 4.0 because of guest bloggers.

I am not implying that KISSmetrics was penalized because “they didn’t stick a fork in their guest bloggers”. But, KISSmetrics could have been penalized by duplicate content from their guest bloggers (quite a few of KISSmetrics posts are written by guest bloggers). Guest writers could have written for KISSmetrics and then re-published that content on their own blog.

Based on the KISSmetrics publishing guidelines, there are no guidelines stating that the writer cannot re-publish his or her own content. Although the duplicate content issue could be covered in other forms of communication to the writers (contract, etc), it is a possibility.

Penalty Conclusion

Although I am hoping for the first possibility, (I wouldn’t wish a penalty upon anyone) these are issues that KISSmetrics should thoughtfully consider. Again, I cannot stress the unreliability of third party data, but in any manner, these are issues that should be addressed immediately. Hopefully, Neil can chime in on this issue. I’d really love to know if these have been issues for KISSmetrics (plus, Neil is extremely transparent in order to be helpful).


A robots.txt file is used to restrict search engines from accessing specific sections of a site. Here is a copy of KISSmetric’s root domain Robots.txt file:

KISSmetrics Robots File

On their blog, KISSmetrics uses another robots.txt file:

KISSmetrics Blog Robots File

There are a few improvements that KISSmetrics could make in the construction of their robots.txt.

First, on the blog, KISSmetrics should consider blocking ‘/wp-content/plugins/’. Sometimes developers put links in their plugins.

Second, on the blog, KISSmetrics should rethink blocking /wp-includes/’ in robots. There are better solutions for blocking robots than in the robots.txt file (ie, NOINDEX).

Finally, KISSmetrics should add a working sitemap to their blog. The current sitemap (Sitemap: http://blog.kissmetrics.com/sitemap.xml.gz) does not work.

KISSmetrics Site Map Does Not Work

Fixing this will help the robots to index their pages.

Robots Meta Tag

Each page on a site can use a robots meta tag to tell search engine crawlers if they are allowed to index that page and follow its links.

WordPress is a great open source platform – one that KISSmetrics built their blog on – but duplicate content is one thing you have to be very mindful of. Using the robots meta tag will help prevent duplicate content. Content duplication issues include tags, categories, and archives.

Quite a few of KISSmetrics’s pages have a meta robots tag. In the case mentioned above (wp-includes), it would benefit KISSmetrics to include a “noindex” robots meta tag on a per page basis, rather than blocking an entire directory.

One thing KISSmetrics should consider ‘NOINDEX’ is blog subpages. As you can see below, the sub-pages are indexed:

Subpages Indexed

Since these page take up crawl bandwidth, but don’t have unique content, and historically have a low CTR, KISSmetrics (based on their analytics) should consider “NOINDEX, FOLLOW” on these archive based pages.

KISSmetrics has successfully implemented this change on subpages of categories, topics, and topic sub-pages, and should consider adding the same meta robots tag to the other archive based structures. The “NOINDEX, FOLLOW” will remove the subpages from the index, but will still allow links to pass.


This section covers best practices for both search engines and users. Many of the search engines’ accessibility issues were mentioned above in index-ability, and now we’ll cover accessibility as it mainly relates to personas with the benefits of robots in mind.


According to Google Webmaster tools:

You may have heard that here at Google we’re obsessed with speed, in our products and on the web. As part of that effort, today we’re including a new signal in our search ranking algorithms: site speed. Site speed reflects how quickly a website responds to web requests… While site speed is a new signal, it doesn’t carry as much weight as the relevance of a page.

It’s tempting to dismiss site speed as an important SEO ranking factor, but if Google says it matters (even a small percentage), then it matters. Even if you dismiss speed as an optimization factor, it is also an inbound factor that can’t be ignored. Who likes a slow site?

KISSmetrics’s site speed is fairly slow, and KISSmetrics could easily make a few tweaks to make their site much more efficient. As you can see below (via GTMetrix), the site speed for the root domain is:

Performance Report for KISSmetrics

The problems on the root domain above are quick fixes. The blog (blog.kissmetrics.com) did much better, scoring an 88% and a 79%.

Reducing the number of files needed to load the site, and thereby reducing the number of HTTP requests, will make KISSmetrics’s site load more quickly. Currently, the root domain makes 64 request when loading the page (which is somewhat surprising, considering the homepage is only a few images and includes less than 70 words.)

There are usually three parts to fixing this:

  • Reduce the number of JavaScript files
  • Reduce the number of CSS files
  • Reduce the number of images

On the homepage, the Time to First Byte is efficient (300ms), but the page load is somewhat slow – anywhere from 2.95 seconds on GTMetrix to 1.95 seconds (Pingdom). They received a 55/100 on Page Speed Insights via Google (42 on Mobile), and 75/100 on Pingdom. KISSmetrics’s homepage has room for improvement.

Another concern is that their blogs have over 100+ https requests, but surprisingly, even with all the requests, the page speed was excellent: 933kb.

The site could be improved with the following:

  • Eliminate render-blocking JavaScript and CSS
  • Minimize HTTP requests – KISSmetrics’s pages will load more quickly with fewer requests. Minimizing these requests involves reducing the number of files that have to be loaded, such as Javascript, CSS, and images.
  • Combine Javascript and CSS into external files with links from the header. This allows the external page to be cached so that it will load faster (there are 10 CSS files and 4 JS files loaded separately on the blog).
  • Implement server side / browser caching – This creates a static html page for a URL so that the dynamic sites don’t have to reload / be recreated each time the URL is requested.
  • Load Javascript asynchronously.
  • Use a CDN – such as Amazon. The CDN will allow users to download information more quickly (as far as I can tell, they are not using a CDN).
  • Finally, use 301′s only when necessary. A 301 forces a new URL, which takes a longer time to load (93 of their pages use 301).

Site Architecture

The site architecture defines the overall structure of a site, and it has a number of important SEO implications. For example, when a page receives external authority, the site architecture defines how that authority flows through the rest of the site.

Additionally, since search engine crawlers have a finite crawl budget for every site, the site architecture ultimately dictates how frequently pages are crawled (or if they’re crawled at all).

Authority Flow

To understand how authority flows through the site, I performed an analysis on the site’s internal links.

Based on that analysis, here is the distribution of the site’s links (these values have been rounded to the nearest percentage):

Inernal Authority Flow

As you can see above, 96% of the pages have a value less than 0.1 (pages with authority values closer to 0 have the least authority and pages closer to 1 have highest authority), relative to the other pages. Most of the site’s internal authority is held by 3.8% of the pages.

The root cause for this authority is the site’s navigation. All of the pages that have large amounts of internal links (1800+), are found in the footer or header:

/infographics (1834)

/marketing-guides (1830)

/webinars (1822)

/topics (1820)

Since these links appear sitewide (i.e., on every page), these page receive multiple internal links, while the other pages receive very few internal links.

Even though the Article Categories on the site break down the articles into substantial sections, the internal links do not seem to pass through to individual articles (which is the case with almost every navigation).

The related post section on each article works well to accomplish this purpose (an example is below), but not every post includes the related post widget.

KISSmetrics Related Posts

Since KISSmetrics related posts seem to be manually picked, often times, the most recent posts are picked (leaving the older post with fewer internal links). KISSmetrics should continue cross-page linking so that the internal links distribute across other pages.

Click Depth

Click Depth (or crawl depth) is the number of times a website visitor must click on a link from the root domain in order to get to the desired page. The root domain will have a link depth of zero – since it takes zero clicks to get to the root domain on a webpage.

Search Engines are like humans – they do not want to waste time trying to find pages hidden deep in a site’s architecture. Pages that are available in one click – thus one page from the homepage – are deemed more important by search engines than those that are several clicks removed.

It doesn’t matter if the URL is KISSmetrics.com/name if it takes Googlebot (and users) 8 clicks to get there.

As the graph below shows, 44% of the site’s pages have a click depth of 5 or greater (i.e., they are 5 or more clicks away from the homepage):

Depth Stats

To reduce the click depth, KISSmetrics can create new ways to interlink the site’s pages. To accomplish this, KISSmetrics could:

  • Increase the blogroll count to reduce the number of paginated pages (currently, they have 90+) [Revealing more results by scrolling (or swiping) is an established convention (Kohn).]
  • Link back to the top results from each of the paginated URLs

A flat architecture decreases the distance between high authority pages and all other pages, increasing the chance that low PR pages will be crawled on a more frequent basis.

On Page Factors

In this section, I will investigate the characteristics of KISSmetrics’s pages (e.g., URLs, schema, duplicate content, etc.) that influence the site’s search engine rankings. On Page search factors are those that are entirely within KISSmetrics’s own control.

HTML Markup

A site’s HTML is important because it contains some of the most vital on-page ranking factors.

HTML markup is a machine readable language that is used to tell the browser how to display the text or graphics in the document. Search engines crawl over your pages and semantic markup can identify your pages’ most important information. Semantic HTML markup is a way of indicating the meaning of web content to the search engine.

When examining KISSmetrics’s pages, I found multiple pages with 5-15 errors per page.

KISSmetrics errors per page

Many of the issues are easy fixes: open tags, stray elements, attribute errors, etc… Although these aren’t extremely critical issues, it’s best to clean up as many errors as possible (empty headings, duplicate IDs, attributes, etc). To be fair, most of the errors are output from the plugins that are installed on the blog.

Structured Data

Schema.org mircodata is an extra set of HTML tags that you can add to your HTML elements to let the search engines know specifically what you are talking about. For example, for the KISSmetric blog, they would tag the title as a “headline,” the author as an “author” (with authorship), and the date the blog post was published as the “publishedDate.”

Now when Google indexes KISSmetrics’s blog, it knows specifically what the title of an article is, who the author is, and when the post was published.

Fortunately, KISSmetrics does define structured data on most of their posts (authorship included):

Structured Data

As of late June 2014, Google’s John Mueller announced that Google was making a major change with authorship – Specifically – dropping the profile photo and circle count from the search listings (supposedly “click-through behavior on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one”). For some reason, I highly doubt this, but KISSmetrics can be the judge.

To make the remaining articles more readable for search engines, I’d recommend adding authorship for guest bloggers.

Structured Data Testing Tool

Be Careful with Schema.org

One caution: I do not recommend schema.org for all HTML elements. For example, consider the search term “how do you boil eggs”:

how do you boil eggs -schema

Here, you can see that Google is using micro markup (schema) to scrape the content and place it on Google – this could potentially hurt click through rates (CTR). The more information you tell Google – the more you risk Google scraping your content and your site losing sessions.

Head Tags


KISSmetrics has a Google+ page, and they are taking advantage of rel=publisher. Publisher connects the Google+ page to the website, and that results in your Google+ page being displayed in search results whenever anyone is searching for your brand name.

KISSmetrics has rel=publisher markup code on their homepage. If you look at KISSmetrics’s results in the SERPs, you will notice they are receiving the markup:

SERPs Markup

KISSmetrics could, however, update their Google+ profile more often. They currently only update their profile a few times a month. Updating the post more regularly could result in a posts being shown in the results.

rel=prev / next

As previously mentioned, KISSmetrics could potentially have a duplicate content issue. In addition to addressing the issues above, these tags are influential in indexing and preventing duplicate content.

Google asks that Webmasters add rel=”next” and rel=”prev” to paginated archives, so that Google can distinguish them as a series and send users to the most relevant pages. KISSmetrics is doing a great job of using prev/next on individual pages, but they are not currently using prev/next on subpages of archives (page/1/ or sub-pages of /topics/).

They do, however, seem to have an issue using nofollow on pagination. According to Rand, whatever you do, do NOT:

Add nofollow to the paginated links on the results pages. This tells the engines not to flow link juice/votes/authority down into the results pages that desperately need those votes to help them get indexed and pass value to the deeper pages.

Unless KISSmetrics has a valid reason unbeknownst to a third-party, they should consider removing the nofollow links on the blog pagination.


Each KISSmetric post uses a rel=”canonical” link; however, all of these links are self-referential and normally are not a problem. The problem arises, however, when both the https and http version are self-referential.

On subpages (/page/2/, etc…), KISSmetrics does not use canonical tags, but on many pages, KISSmetrics uses rel=prev, rel=next, which is actually a common substitute for canonical (according to webmaster tools). Since not all subpages include canonical or rel=”prev/next”, I’d suggest adding those tags to help the search engines distinguish the paginated series. Since KISSmetrics has ‘NOINDEX’ on topic subpages, this isn’t a problem, but they should consider addressing canonical (or prev/next) on the blogroll, as it is ‘INDEX,FOLLOW’.


The last tag KISSmetrics should think about implementing (after checking analytics) is NOINDEX,FOLLOW. They’ve successfully implemented NOINDEX on the /topics/ but have not used it on subpages on the blog roll. Unless their data says otherwise, they should consider NOINDEX,FOLLOW on these pages.

Open Graph

The Open Graph protocol enables any web page on KISSmetrics’s site – or all sites – to become a rich object. For instance, the Open Graph is used by Facebook to allow any web page to have the same functionality as any other object on Facebook.

This is the open graph information in their blog (blog.kissmetrics.com) markup [the root domain does not include open graph information]:

KISSmetrics Opengraph

The above markup translates to:

Open Graph Translate

On their blog, they are correctly implementing open graph and might want to include the tag below:

Correctly Implementing Open Graph

KISSmetrics may also want to consider adding publisher to the blog as well (and not just the root domain) and verify they have authorship implemented throughout (these tags can also display on open graph – and they currently do not).

Twitter Cards

Twitter cards are another micro markup – essentially rich snippets for Tweets. Twitter will actually fall back on the Open Graph tags used for FB, but the Open Graph tags aren’t comprehensive.

All of KISSmetrics’s blog pages include og: tags, which attach additional information to the Tweets associated with those pages by default. However, they should also include (in addition to the og: tags):

Twitter Cards Meta




Each page that is indexed should have unique content and a unique title that effectively summarizes the content for users and search engines.

For titles, Google will show as many characters that a 512 pixel display can show – thus, around 50-60 characters. The reason the number varies is because some characters are bigger than others (ie, you could fit a lot more “i”s than you could “w”s).

Out of the 1000+ pages on KISSmetrics’s website, 393 pages have a width greater than 512 pixels. As you can see below, most of KISSmetrics title’s fall in and around the 512 mark, but about ⅓ exceed:

Page Title Pixels

KISSmetrics’s titles average 51 characters, but since the pixels of various characters can exceed 512 pixels, some of the title’s are truncated in the SERPs:

Truncated Titles

*In some cases, Google no longer truncates the title and adds an ellipsis to the end; instead, Google tries to algorithmically determine a better title for the post (Google changes the title to better match the query. The reason for this is simple: users scan for and assign higher relevance to titles that include their query).

Just out of curiosity, though, let’s look at the overall distribution of title lengths that were not cut off: (pre-cut-off):

Title Character Count

The good news is that this distribution is roughly normal, peaking at about 54-58 characters. Post-cut-off title tags ranged in length from 55 to 68+ characters. Here’s a title cut off at 55 characters (measured at 514 pixels):

Title Cut Off

The example above is the only title less than 58 characters that was truncated. In this case, keeping titles within 50-58 characters is the wisest option. It’s not worth going back and revising every title based on this new data. KISSmetrics should look at their key pages, view the SERPs, and make sure the snippets show correctly.

KISSmetrics should keep these guidelines in mind for future SEO efforts, but not worry too much.

Lastly, less than 5% of KISSmetrics’s titles contain their brand name. To help promote brand awareness, I’d add suggest adding KISSmetrics at the end of each title (| KISSmetrics). Because KISSmetrics is well recognized, including the brand name in the title element could increase search engine clicks.

Meta Descriptions

Meta descriptions are HTML attributes that provide concise explanations of the contents of web pages. Meta descriptions are commonly used on search engine result pages (SERPs) to display preview snippets for a given page (Moz).

Meta Descriptions do not influence the ranking factor of a site’s page, but they do influence the CTR (click-through-rate).

It’s speculated that Meta descriptions are calculated by pixel width, rather than characters. This pixel width is less than simply 512 pixels multiplied by two (1,024px) which you might expect, and actually the CSS truncation appears to be around 920 pixels. Google uses 13px Arial for meta description text and chop off at word boundaries.

Out of 1,056 unique HTML/Text URLs on the root domain and blog, 97% include a meta description. Over 51% of the meta descriptions are over 920 pixels. As you can see below, the meta description is being truncated:

Meta Description Truncated

For every page on the site, the meta description is an excerpt of the first sentence. KISSmetrics should consider writing a succinct, unique meta description (no more than 155 characters) in order to help CTR.  Because their meta descriptions are excerpts, many of them are cut off:

Meta Description Length

If KISSmetrics does not decide to write a unique meta description for each page, they should consider removing the automatic excerpt on the long-tail articles. If the page is targeting long-tail searches, it may be easier to let the search engines pull in the meta descriptions themselves.

The reason this is more feasible than automatically outputting an excerpt is because when the search engines pull content, they pull content and display keywords surrounding the user’s query. If you force a meta description, it can detract from the relevance of long tail search.

In some cases, search engines will overrule your meta description anyways, but you cannot always rely on that. In that regard, it would be advantageous for KISSmetrics to consider adding unique meta descriptions for pages that target only a few keywords (to see if they can increase CTR) and leave the other long-tail pages open for variance.

Since KISSmetrics posts average 2,400 words, they should consider A) writing unique descriptions for the posts, or B) allowing the SERPs to automatically create the description based on the user’s query.


For optimization purposes, the two most important image attributes are the image’s filename and the image’s alt text. Both of these attributes should effectively describe the image’s content to provide additional context for search engines and visually impaired users.

Image file names should be descriptive – not containing random numbers or queries. The file name should describe the image. The file name is information you give directly to the search engines and to other technologies to identify what the information is about.

For the benefit of search engines, compliance (HTML), and the visually impaired, all images on KISSmetrics should also have an ALT tag (Alternative text is text you provide for an image in case it can’t be displayed – perhaps the image is broken or the program cannot display the image). The ALT tag should accurately describe the image, and if possible, contain a keyword relevant to KISSmetrics (but only if the keyword is relevant to the image).

One other form of optimization that is not usually included is the text around an image. The text around an image tells a lot about the image itself. This is just another signal telling the search engine what the image is.

If KISSmetrics ensures that images follow these rules, they will increase the likelihood of referral traffic from image searches. KISSmetrics has hundreds of images, and around 81.26% of the images take advantage of the alt text (there are 2,089 images without alt text).

One area that KISSmetrics can improve in is the descriptiveness of the file naming. As you can see below, quite a few of the images are just random strings.

Random Strings for Images

There are hundreds of images like the ones above on KISSmetrics’s blog. I’d suggest adding descriptive title tags to the images to increase organic image search, and also to be HTML compliant.


The site’s URL structure is streamlined, and  KISSmetrics has done a great job crafting their URLs. Their URLs are at an average length of 50 characters (including http://www.kissmetrics).

KISSmetrics URL Length

KISSmetrics could, however, improve some of their URL structures by making them slightly more descriptive. Take these URLs, for example




KISSmetrics could add one or two more words to the URL to describe what the page is about. The keywords in the URLs above are very vague, and KISSmetrics could potentially help ranking and click through by describing the URL better. For example, an article titled, “Truth Will Out – Why Authenticity is the Key to Growing Your Business” is found here:

http://blog.kissmetrics.com/truth-will-out/ (the only descriptive keyword is “truth”).

Updating these URLs to make them more descriptive (and more closely aligned with their corresponding content) may help in their organic search.

Overall, the site’s URL structure is organized and clean. Unfortunately, while crawling the site, I found URLs on 738 pages that returned a 403 or 404 HTTP status codes (i.e., those URLs are no longer accessible). In one post, 50 Resources for Facebook Application Developers, KISSmetrics states, “Note this post is from 2008 so many of the links are broken.” If possible, those links should be redirected and updated.

Another important URL-related consideration is the domain name. Although the domain is not expiring anytime soon, KISSmetrics should keep a watch on the domain’s expiration: September of 2015.

External Links

One last item for KISSmetrics to consider is the amount of links they place on each page. According to Matt Cutts (on the topic of links per page):

So how might Google treat pages with well over a hundred links? If you end up with hundreds of links on a page, Google might choose not to follow or to index all those links. At any rate, you’re dividing the PageRank of that page between hundreds of links, so each link is only going to pass along a minuscule amount of PageRank anyway. Users often dislike link-heavy pages too, so before you go overboard putting a ton of links on a page, ask yourself what the purpose of the page is and whether it works well for the user experience.

KISSmetrics has 61 pages on their blog that exceed 100 links and 4 with 200 external links or more (“28 Things You Need To Know About The New Facebook Pages” ranks the highest with 372 outlinks). You can see an example of that post below:

Lots of External Links

Simply put, more links equals less PR for those links. The actual math of PR gets fuzzy fast, but for best measures, KISSmetrics should consider keeping their links under 100 per page (even if for user as experience).

Off – Page Factors

This section will cover some of the most influential factors in ranking: backlinks and social engagement.


Links are not everything when it comes to SEO, but search professionals and companies attribute a large portion of the search engines’ algorithms to backlinks (Larry Page based Google off of the Educational Citation Method – ie. A professor who was cited by other authors was considered more credible – Read his dissertation for more information).

When analyzing backlinks, you should consider: Total number of links, link quality, number of unique domains, fresh/incoming links, and anchor text usage.

To start, I first recorded how many backlinks KISSmetrics had received over the past few months. The charts below show the growth of KISSmetrics’s backlink profile over the course of one year. Below is a chart of blog.kissmetrics.com:

Growth of KISSmetrics backlink profile

After comparing the backlink analysis above to both Majestic SEO and Moz, there was not much of a difference. KISSmetrics was consistently growing their unique domain backlinks until a steep drop in March, and has started a recent growth once more.

Both the root domain and the blog subdomain have the same drop, and combined they have around 16,000 unique domain backlinks.

To see how KISSmetrics’s backlink growth matches up over the years, I compared their root domain growth with their blog domain growth:

Root Domain vs Blog Domain Growth

As you can see above, the blog backlinks are growing at a much faster pace than the root domain backlinks (and they should be, since new content is created daily on the blog).

Since KISSmetrics’s blog is outpacing the root domain in backlinks, should they move the blog to a subdirectory?

The Case for Subdirectories (versus Subdomains)

Matt Cutts has said:

[Subdomains and Subdirectories] are roughly equivalent. I would basically go with whichever one is easier for you in terms of configuration, your CMSs, [and] all that sort of stuff.

Although it seems like subdomains and subdirectories can be treated equally, Cutts uses very vague language; “roughly equivalent” is still not equivalent.

KISSmetrics should consider testing out subdirectories over subdomains for 2 main reasons:

First, there is a correlation between pages on the root domain and higher rankings. According to Rand at Moz:

I would still strongly urge folks to keep all content on a single subdomain. We recently were able to test this using a subdomain on Moz itself (when moving our beginner’s guide to SEO from guides.moz.com to the current URL http://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo). The results were astounding – rankings rose dramatically across the board for every keyword we tracked to the pages.

Second, fewer subdirectories tend to create a better user experience and flow. As it stands, KISSmetrics exist in silos. Although the subdomains are clean, they do not make for the best of navigation.

KISSmetrics should also consider how their links pass from root domain to subdomain. Since their root domain has over 3K links, and the other subdomain (the blog) has over 13k, KISSmetrics should consider link equity. With only 16 pages on the root domain – and a lot of that being less viewed, weaker content  – they should at least think about the potential of combining the subdomain and root (with 301, of course).

The Case for Subdomains (versus Subdirectories)

There is also the stance that subdomains work equally as well. Some of the benefits of using a subdomain are:

  • Links from the root domain (since subdomains are treated as a separate site)
  • Get links “from another website” (subdomains are treated pretty much as such). Ability to link back to priority pages on the root domain.
  • Piggyback on the authority of the root domain.
  • Can be hosted anywhere. Since KISSmetrics has a https root domain (and they use Amazon), putting the blog on a subdomain makes for easier hosting – such as WP Engine.

And yet again, Cutts has said “[Subdomains and Subdirectories] are roughly equivalent”. In any manner, it’s a possibility worth testing.

Backlink Distribution

To monitor KISSmetrics’s backlink distribution – the links dispersed among all of their pages – I used Moz’s Pro Tools to analyze the backlinks for each page on KISSmetrics’s site.

Backlink Disctribution

KISSmetrics has – according to Moz, Majestic and Ahrefs – around 16,000 referring domains. According to the data, 75% of all KISSmetrics’s pages have backlinks. Many of their pages with multiple links are the embeddable infographics.

Backlink Source

To analyze KISSmetrics’s backlinks, I used Majestic SEO. Here is a plotting of their backlinks:

Plotting of Back Links

The site has quite a few quality backlinks. When analyzing Majestic, you are hoping to see the links fall to the top right. Citation Flow is link juice and the Trust Flow is how close those links are to trustworthy, authoritative sources.

Correlating with the data above, only a handful of KISSmetrics’s links that I checked appeared spammy, and a few of the links over-optimized anchor text. Currently, there is a trust ratio of .672 on KISSmetrics and .660 on blog.KISSmetrics, so it would be worthwhile for KISSmetrics to examine their backlink profile. (It would be encouraging to see the ratio greater than 1).

One last caution: KISSmetrics should be careful of websites using links in headers and footers that repeat across the site. These sitewide links are heavily scrutinized by Google’s Penguin update.

Anchor Text Distribution

After Penguin, Panda, etc – it’s important for KISSmetrics to conduct an anchor text analysis. Over the years, there were many ways to manipulate rankings on Google, and links were one of them. Google has always been aware of this, and they are finally cracking down (in fact, anchor text misuse will trigger the Penguin filter quickly).

This is a great rule of thumb to follow:

70% (or higher!) brand, URL, brand+keyword, and non-targeted anchor texts (Branded Links, White Noise, Naked URL, Titles, and Image)

25% partial, phrase, and broad match keyword anchor texts (Compound)

5% exact match anchor texts (Exact Match)

On the blog, the anchor text distribution follows the above guidelines. The root domain is displayed below:

Anchor Text Distribution

85% of KISSmetrics backlinks include a branded identity – this anchor text appears natural. You generally expect to see many branded links, and 85% is rather high. It’s not a bad thing – with Google’s preference for branded terms, it’s much better than exact match anchor text.

One of the reasons the links feature the brand is because the root domain doesn’t have a blog – thus very little to link back to via anchor text.

Image Links

KISSmetrics should consider removing all links that open the same image in a new tab. For example – if you click some of the blog images on KISSmetrics – they open the images in a new tab (creating an extra link):

KISSmetrics should consider removing that extra link. These extra links are an innate WP function that can easily be changed in functions.php:


This removes one extra link on the page (saving inbound and external links) and helps with UX and CRO by keeping the user on the page. They’ve done a great job removing most of these, but a few posts have images that target new tabs.

Conversion / Leads

Once KISSmetrics has visitors on their site (mainly from SEO), the next step is to convert those visitors into leads by gathering their contact information (in KISSmetric’s case, their email addresses). This leads us into the second stage of inbound marketing, conversion and lead generation. This section will examine calls to action, landing pages, forms, and contacts.


A call-to-action (CTA) is an image or text that encourages users to take action, by subscribing to a newsletter or requesting a product demo. In most cases, CTAs should direct people to landing pages, where collection of information can be made. In that sense, an effective CTA results in more leads and conversions for your website (via Hubspot).

Let’s start at the very beginning. KISSmetrics should have calls to action on the homepage. It’s probably the most frequently visited page on KISSmetrics and presents an opportunity to drive traffic for lead generation. In fact, some say the homepage should have at least three calls-to-action.

KISSmetrics Calls to Action

KISSmetrics has an offer and at least three calls to action – asking people to log in with Google Analytics, get a three minute overview, or sign in. This page is doing exactly what it is supposed to: narrowing the focus and removing clutter that could distract visitors.

On the blog, there are multiple calls to actions on the page: 3 in the sidebar, 1 in the footer, and one after the post entry. The three calls to actions in the sidebar (as you can see below), do not change:

Consistent Calls to Action

In a perfect world, it would be nice if these offers changed (mainly the webinar) based on content, but limited personnel and resources normally restrict.

The last CTA to address is the after post CTA. During the audit, there were only two live CTA’s after the posts:

After Post Live CTAs




If the content was filed under the topics “Twitter” or “Social Media,” the visitor received the Linkedin CTA (the one on the right). If the user was on a page about any other topic, he or she received the CTA about marketing funnels.

As compelling as the offers can be, in some cases, they were not applicable. If a user read a post about “6 Ways to Make Customers Fall in Love With Your Brand,” they received the Marketing Funnel CTA. The CTA does connect in a way, but there could be a more compelling offer.

Or, if a user was reading “How Typography Affects Conversions,” they were greeted with the same marketing funnel offer. Again, relatable, but not the best offer. A better offer for Typography might have been a free download of:

Color Pyschology Marketing Guide CTA

This is a free marketing guide that KISSmetrics has already created that would make a suitable offer. I understand that creating free materials for downloads can be time consuming. But, KISSmetrics already has done all the work. They have multiple free ebooks that would make for compelling CTAs:

Multiple Free EBooks

To improve their CTA’s, I’d suggest KISSmetrics use more than two after post CTAs and create more compelling offers by using the free material they already have. Their free ebooks are outstanding.

Landing Pages

A landing page is a web page that allows you to capture a visitor’s information. On your landing page, your visitors will find a form that they can fill out to receive an offer (HubSpot).

If you were to click on any of the after entry CTA’s mentioned above (Linkedin or Leaky Marketing Funnels), you would have been brought to one of these landing pages:

Landing Pages by KISSmetrics

And honestly, there isn’t much to say about these pages.

These pages are to the point, use contrasting colors, gain ethos from the logo, are well designed, and are consistent.


Without knowing the sales and marketing goals behind the forms, it is hard to make an accurate analysis of the forms. Although short forms normally do better, KISSmetrics’s longer forms are warranted because they are seeking more qualified leads. They could, however, use auto generated forms.

Thank You Page

Every landing page should be followed by a thank you page. Here is what KISSmetrics’s Thank you pages look like:

Followed by a Thank You Page

I tried multiple options on the forms to generate different thank you pages. The only difference in the pages is the left page is because I asked for a demo (I’m interested) and the right is because I declined a demo.

With these thank you pages, the user is trapped with no navigation and no truly compelling next step to take.

Kissmetrics should consider bringing back the navigation, adding social sharing icons (the user did just download an offer), direct the user to other relevant content, or reconvert by asking if a user is interested in another product.

As it stands, the user will close the page and leave.

Close / Customers 

Closing refers to transforming leads into customers. This generally includes a wide array of options (lead scoring, email, marketing automation, CRM, etc [HubSpot]) but since this audit didn’t engage with KISSmetrics sales team, this section will focus on contacts and email.

Contacts / Email

After I finished the form and closed out the thank you pages, I received my free downloads via email:

Free Downloads via Email Picture

The download worked. The only problem with the email (and this is being picky) is that Lars Lofgren’s signature was on the landing page, but Magi and Dan sent the email. It is a small detail, but since the email is automated, it should be an easy change.

Overall, the email hit the main 6 points:

  • A clear subject line.
  • An actual person sent the email (although not my friend Lars).
  • Branding
  • Personalized
  • Focused CTA
  • Unsubscribe Link

Suggestion: there is no sharing or forwarding built into the email.


Inbound marketing is all about converting leads into customers. Just because someone has signed up does not mean the process is over. Inbound should continue by engaging with, delighting, and creating brand advocates.

This next stage of inbound marketing is all about engaging with and (hopefully) keeping their future and current customers happy.

Social Media

Besides using social media as a customer service tool, we cannot ignore the fact that social media is a search engine of sorts. People on social media are researching, searching, interacting, and engaging – and at very high engagement rates. According to Statisticbrain, the number of Twitter search engine queries every day is over 2.1 billion. In any regard, a site’s success is largely dependent on social success and social engagement.

The chart below ( via Social Crawlytics ) provides a visual of how KISSmetrics’s shares are split concerning a search engine’s point of view. The center represents the first page, and each segment beyond it are pages linked from that page (in this case – the blog roll page). Segments beyond that are linked to their parent. Pages with no shares are not included or shown (click on the image to zoom in and to read the text).

Circle Graph

As you can see from the graph above, the center represents the blog homepage, and all articles off of the homepage. The graph below breaks down that same content by social network:

Social Media Shares Breakdown for KISSmetrics

Not surprisingly, KISSmetrics does really well on Pinterest. As you can tell from the graph below, many of their most shared posts come from infographics:

Shares of Infographics

Overall, KISSmetrics does extremely well with social media. One minor suggestion, KISSmetrics should analyze their facebook strategy:

Analyze Facebook Strategy

KISSmetrics doesn’t create interaction on the posts – their engagement rate is hovering around 5% and their page isn’t growing.

Engaging Content

Besides social shares and traffic (which have already been measured), the next best tell for engaging content is commenting. On average, KISSmetrics receives 22 comments for each post.

As you can see from the graph below, KISSmetrics actually receives quite a few comments for each post:

Comment Count

There are no recommendations for KISSmetrics on this (they average 22 comments per post). Their engagement level is great, and even Shah and Patel comment regularly (a great place for users to learn).


If you read everything in this audit example, I am truly impressed. If you cheated and jumped straight down to this section, I’ll forgive you. Either way, this section contains a summary of my most important observations for KISSmetrics and tips for you as you audit your site:

Check for Duplicate content

  1. Always check your canonical tag (Click view source, push Command + F (Mac), and type “canonical”). It’s that easy – you don’t need a specialized tool. In this audit, there is cause for concern on KISSmetrics’s site with duplicate content and the canonical tag. As you begin to look over their third-party data, there is a strong correlation between the data (although third party) and Google’s Panda update.
  2. Use Google’s site operators to check for duplicate content (site:domain.com). On the last Search Engine Results page, if you see the dreaded “In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the # already displayed.”, you need to check your content. There is cause for concern with KISSmetrics and duplicate content as this appears with their search.

Check for Indexability

  1. Check your robots file. Make sure that you are allowing robots by visiting yourdomain.com/robots.txt. If you do not have a robots file, consider creating one. KISSmetrics doesn’t have a problem with robots.txt, but they do have a broken sitemap in the robots.txt.
  2. Check your meta robots tags. These are page level tags that have the ability to de-index your content. KISSmetrics uses these tags well, but KISSmetrics should consider adding “NOINDEX” to subpages of their blog to prevent duplicate content.

Check for On Page Errors

  1. Check your site for broken links (especially if you have an older blog where links may have changed). Broken links kill your UX and end your link credibility. You can use a free tool called “Integrity” to check your backlinks. KISSmetrics has quite a few hundred broken links they should update.
  2. Measure your click depth (you can do it manually using Excel or with tools like Screaming Frog). Click Depth (or crawl depth) is the number of times a website visitor must click on a link from the root domain in order to get to the desired page (It doesn’t matter if the URL is KISSmetrics.com/name if it takes Googlebot (and users) 8 clicks to get there.). 44% of KISSmetric’s pages have a click depth of 5 or greater.
  3. Check your site speed on Google, Pingdom, or GTMetrix (all free).KISSmetrics’s site speed is fairly slow, and KISSmetrics could easily make a few tweaks to make their site much more efficient.

Check Backlinks

  1. Check the number of backlinks (you should mainly be concerned with referring domains). You can use limited free tools like Majestic, Ahrefs, or Moz. KISSmetrics is consistently growing their unique domain backlinks until a steep drop in March, and has started a recent growth once more.
  2. Check your backlink anchor text. After Penguin, Panda, etc – it’s important for you to conduct an anchor text analysis. This is a great rule of thumb to follow: (70% (or higher!) brand, 25% partial, phrase, and broad match keyword, 5% exact match anchor texts. KISSmetrics anchor text is excellent – with 85% of the anchor text branded.
  3. Check your backlink source with Majestic. When analyzing Majestic, you are hoping to see the links fall to the top right. Currently, KISSmetrics has a trust ratio of .660 on blog.KISSmetrics, so it would be worthwhile for KISSmetrics to examine their backlink profile (we were aiming for a 1).

Final Thought

As important as SEO is, it doesn’t exist in a silo. I hope this audit integrates SEO and inbound marketing to create a cohesive strategy and plan for KISSmetrics in the future. After the entire audit, I leave with a lot of respect for KISSmetrics, and I hope you do as well. I hope this helps them succeed.

This audit has proven three things:

  1. No company is perfect. Even the best companies have to constantly monitor their internet marketing. This should be an encouragement for all – we all miss things in our inbound / SEO.
  2. If there is a company that is putting their best foot forward in inbound, it’s KISSmetrics.
  3. You won’t meet better guys than Hiten Shah or Neil Patel.

Best of luck, KISSmetrics.

What Do You Think? 

I would love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, and questions in the comments below.

Click here to access all 24 tools Eli used to audit KISSmetrics

Eli Overbey is an SEO Analyst by day and blogger the rest of the time. To find other similar in-depth audits or to contact him about doing an audit for your site, visit elioverbey.net


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We Analyzed Nearly 1 Million Headlines. Here’s What We Learned http://okdork.com/2014/07/22/we-analyzed-nearly-1-million-headlines-heres-what-we-learned/ http://okdork.com/2014/07/22/we-analyzed-nearly-1-million-headlines-heres-what-we-learned/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 20:29:55 +0000 http://okdork.com/?p=5457 This is guest post by Garrett Moon, Founder at CoSchedule

Here at CoSchedule, we help our customers plan their blog and social media content on a single drag and drop calendar. This is cool, but what it really means is that we have access to a ton of data about blog headlines, including where those headlines get shared online.

After reaching nearly 1 million blog post headlines in our system, we began wondering about what they could reveal about growing traffic and [...]]]> This is guest post by Garrett Moon, Founder at CoSchedule

Here at CoSchedule, we help our customers plan their blog and social media content on a single drag and drop calendar. This is cool, but what it really means is that we have access to a ton of data about blog headlines, including where those headlines get shared online.

After reaching nearly 1 million blog post headlines in our system, we began wondering about what they could reveal about growing traffic and writing better headlines. Specifically, we wondered:

What is it that makes one headline more shareable than another?

The Data

For the purposes of this post, we began with a dataset of nearly 1 million headlines. I trimmed that number down to English-only posts that had already been published. Then I whittled it down further to a group of headlines that had received at least 100 total shares across all of the major social networks.

From there, I created another group of headlines that had more than 1,000 shares. This lead to my first major insight.

Most content doesn’t get shared all that much.

Most Content Does Not Get Shared

Just let this chart sink in for a minute. This means that 89% of the content that is created is never shared more than 100 times! Besides coming off as a bit depressing, this should be major motivation for you to do things differently.

In this post, I am going to specifically focus on the headlines that fell in the top 11% of these results. You are going to see what makes high performing headlines work, so that you can apply the ideas to your own content and put yourself in the top-tier of high-performing blogs.

What common words/phrases are used in highly-shared headlines?

Most Popular Words Or Phrases in Highly Shared Headlines

To start, I went through a few common words and phrases used in headlines that were shared more than 1,000 times. The results were telling.

Takeaway #1 – List Posts Are Huge

One of the first things that I saw was that lists posts are huge and were the most likely type of post to be shared more than 1,000 or even 100 times. More interestingly, list posts only made up 5% of the total posts actually written, which means that we don’t create enough of these posts to begin with. An immediate takeaway here is to start creating more list posts.

Takeaway #2 – Use ‘You’ & ‘Your’ A Lot

Posts that used words like ‘you and your’ in their headline performed extremely and were shared frequently. In contrast, posts that used ‘I and Me’ we three times less likely to be shared. This suggests content that written in the second person – the point of view you take when you are speaking directly to the reader – is far more likely to be shared than content that comes from a first person narrative. Obviously, readers like to see themselves in what they are reading.

Takeaway #3 – Help Your Readers Imagine A Better Life

People really like content that helps they do something awesome, like win something for free or learn something new. We can easily see this in the frequent occurrence of words like ‘free,’ ‘giveaway,’ and ‘how to.’ Use promising words to your readers, and that will make them more likely to share your content with others.

How do common headline words change based on social network?

I wanted to see how the frequency of keywords changed in the headlines when they were broken down by social network. I was pretty surprised by the results.

Fact: Both Facebook and Google+ are surprisingly home-oriented, with top words like ‘recipe’ and ‘homemade.’ Twitter on the other hand tends to be more business and technology focused.

Common Words Phrases in High Shared Headlines

Takeaway #4 – List-posts Do Best On Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

We already know that list posts get shared like crazy, but which networks reward them the most? In a list of some of the most common terms for used on network, there were several words that seemed to indicate the use of a list-based post. On Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, for example, word’s like ‘thing, should, and reasons’ seem to clearly indicate the use of a list.

You can easily imagine the corresponding headlines.

  • 5 Things You Can Do To Write Better Headlines
  • 4 Reasons You Should Wash Your Hair Every Day
  • 8 Things Every Mom Says To Her Kids

Interestingly, these list-like terms are also highly emotional terms, a strong signal that the data will touch on more about bit later.

Takeaway #5 – Video Is Most Popular On Facebook

Facebook was absolutely the most popular network featuring video content, and the only network that had the word included in its top headlines. This likely has something to do with the way that Facebook itself embeds videos directly in the news feed.

Takeaway #6 – Customize Headlines For Each Social Network

Each network has its own audience and demographic and should be catered to individually. For example, in our results, Facebook and Pinterest tended to be home-oriented, whereas Twitter and LinkedIn tended to stay more business focused. Different audiences require different types of content.

One way to accommodate this would be to write custom headlines for each social network that caters to the specific audience rather than just sharing the same old post title on each network. We try to make this type of social sharing as easy as possible with CoSchedule because we know how important it can be.

Where do the world’s most popular headlines get shared?

Part of understanding how shareable headlines work comes from understanding how users will be sharing our content. When we took a look at which social networks were contributing the most shares, the results were pretty astounding. Pinterest totally killed it.

Share Distribution By Network

Takeaway #7 – Pinterest Offers HUGE Shares If You Can Reach The Audience

Among headlines shared more than 1,000 times, Pinterest commanded an astounding 90% of total shares. This simply blew my mind. Pinterest is huge! Of course, you have to have the right type of content to scale this network (see above), but it is ripe for the picking if you know how to do it.

Share Distribution By Social Network w/o Pinterest

Takeaway #8 –At The End Of The Day, It’s Hard To Beat Facebook

Once Pinterest is removed from the scenario, Facebook comes away as the most popular network for social sharing.  In their epic slide deck The Sweet Science Of Virality, Upworthy also makes this claim. If you want big shares, Facebook and Pinterest seem to be where it’s at.

* * *

Can you predict the popularity of a headline? (YES!)

Digging in a little more, I wanted to see if there was an easy way to “rate” a headline and essentially predict (as best I can) if it is going to be a well shared post or not.

To figure this out, I started testing some of the most well-shared headlines using the Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer as made available by the Advanced Marketing Institute. This handy little tool promises to tell you how “emotional” your headline is by counting the number of emotional words that are used in the phrase.

Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer

The headline analyzer is easy to use. Simply copy/paste your headline into the box and will give you a calculated score of your headline’s EMV Score. Here is the result for the headline of this post:

Headline Analyzer Score

Here’s how the headlines analyzer works:

This score indicates that your headline has a total of 30.00% Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) Words. To put that in perspective, the English language contains approximately 20% EMV words.

And for comparison, most professional copywriters’ headlines will have 30%-40% EMV Words in their headlines, while the most gifted copywriters will have 50%-75% EMV words in headlines.

A perfect score would be 100%, but that is rare unless your headline is less than five words.

So, the question is: does it really work as a way to predict popularity? To test, I took an average sampling of headlines in three different sharing groups.

  1. Posts with greater than 1,000 shares
  2. Posts with 500 shares
  3. Posts with 100 shares

Here were the results:

Average EMV Score for Headlines Based on Shares

Posts with a high number of shares frequently reached an EMV Score of 30 or 40, several points higher than posts with fewer shares.

HUGE Takeaway #9 – Emotional Headlines Get Shared More

What I found was that as the number of shares also increased, so did the EMV score of the headline. This means that headlines with a higher EMV Score are more likely to be shared more that posts with a lower EMV Score. Essentially, there is a direct link between the number of emotional words used in a headline and the likelihood it will be shared more than 1,000 times. This is a HUGE takeaway that we can all put to work on our posts right away.

Of course, I wanted to verify my data on this one, since it is such a huge point. I wondered: what would happen if I compared the 5 most shared and the 5 least shared posts on some of the world’s most popular blogs? Would the EMV Score continue to be a good indicator of sharing?

The answer is yes.

Most Popular vs Least Popular

Takeaway #10 – You Can Easily Quantify The Emotional Value Of A Headline

On three of the most highly shareable blogs out there, the posts with more shares had, on average, a higher EMV Score than those posts with fewer shares. Wow! Based on these results, we should all be shooting for an EMV headline value of around 30 or above.

Of course, an EMV of 40 or more will significantly improve our chances of getting more than 1,000 shares for our post, as indicated from the results above.

* * *

At the end of the day, your headline will make a huge difference in the number of shares that a post receives, but there are several things that we can do to help ‘manufacture’ that virility. A good way to start, might be by analyzing the average EMV Score for some of your most popular posts. You can use this handy method to gather the data that you need for free. You can also take a look at this post, which takes a similar look at extremely viral headlines.

Bonus Takeaway #11 – Get A Free Mega-Trial of CoSchedule!

For 1 person who comments, they’ll get a lifetime premium plan to CoSchedule.

For OkDork readers, they are offering an exclusive (and free) 45 day mega-trial of CoSchedule starting right away. It is a pretty great place to put some of the things in this post into practice, so give it a try.

Garrett Moon is a founder at CoSchedule, a WordPress editorial calendar that allows you to schedule your blogs posts and social media together on an easy drag-and-drop calendar. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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A (Proven) Freelancer’s Guide to Growing Your Business http://okdork.com/2014/07/22/actions-techniques-to-go-from-0-to-your-first-1k-with-freelancing/ http://okdork.com/2014/07/22/actions-techniques-to-go-from-0-to-your-first-1k-with-freelancing/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:38:22 +0000 http://okdork.com/?p=5433 [This is a delicious guest post by Paul Jarvis, Founder of PJRVS. --Noah]

Most freelancers start out their business like this:

They get great at what they do. They build a website that talks about their expertise They set up their social media profiles and start promoting at people. They wait for clients to come to them.

When it’s laid out like that, you can see the obviously flaws. And yet, this is how a lot of freelancers try to start working for themselves. They think [...]]]> [This is a delicious guest post by Paul Jarvis, Founder of PJRVS. --Noah]

Most freelancers start out their business like this:

  1. They get great at what they do.
  2. They build a website that talks about their expertise
  3. They set up their social media profiles and start promoting at people.
  4. They wait for clients to come to them.

When it’s laid out like that, you can see the obviously flaws. And yet, this is how a lot of freelancers try to start working for themselves. They think that simply being good at what they do is enough to have clients knocking down their door.

There’s a better way:

Start by getting into the head of the people you want to get hired by

Make a list of people that have hired freelancers that use the same skills as you have and have recently hired for it. Send them a quick email to see if you can ask them for their advice.

Can’t figure out who to ask? Look at successful freelancer’s websites and go to their client list. That’s a whole whack of folks that have hired someone to do what you do. You aren’t trying to steal anyone’s clients, you’re just want to ask them a couple questions.

Use Their Client List

Questions to ask them:

  • Why did they hire the specific freelancer they hired?
  • How’d they find out that freelancer they hired?
  • What problems where they having that lead them to hiring a freelancer?
  • What are the results they expected from hiring a freelancer

People are keen to be seen as experts with advice, and more likely to reply than if you cold-contact them to hire you.

Ask at least 5-10 people to establish a good baseline. Note common words used, common problems and pain points they’ve got and what the top results they expected were.

(Click here to download Paul’s Contract Template for when you land your first gig.)

Let’s consider Frank, who’s a web designer that’s taken a few legal courses in school and really enjoyed them. He wants to figure out what makes lawyers and firms tick in order to get some as clients. Frank wants to work for legal firms that value a progressive online presence.

This is Frank’s website (obviously just an example). Horribly non-specific with his tagline and what he’s trying to accomplish.

This is Frank’s website (obviously just an example). Horribly non-specific with his tagline and what he’s trying to accomplish.

Kraken Legal (a “crack team” of lawyers) has a decent, responsive site.

Kraken Legal (a “crack team” of lawyers) has a decent, responsive site.

Here’s how I’d suggest Frank ask them a few questions to see what their online goals are, what’s important to them for a website and the language they use. All law firms have a list of partners/staff so it’d be easy to get some contact info.

Hello [X],

[Flattery] I’ve just seen the redesign of your website and it’s brilliant – especially [list a specific feature/function].

[Context] I’m web designer and I was wondering if I could ask you a few quick questions to learn more about how I could best serve your industry.

[Getting to the point quickly] You are definitely a leader in your field, so I’d love to learn what I can – any answers will be kept in the strictest of confidence.

1. What lead you to hiring someone to redesign your website?

2. What were the results did you expect?

3. How did you find the web designer you hired and why did you hire them?

I appreciate your time and I look forward to hearing back from you,


Know that it may take several of these emails to get a response. But there aren’t a shortage of companies you can find with a little bit of digging. When I’ve sent emails like this, here’s an example of a response I’ve received (but let’s keep using Frank):

Hi Frank,

1. Our website was outdated and we weren’t able to update it ourselves. Most of our clients also visit our site from mobile devices and it wasn’t responsive.
2. We wanted more signups to our firm’s newsletter, which leads to clients hiring us.
3. We found Paul (the designer) because he answered a question we had on twitter. After seeing his portfolio and feeling like his style was a match for our brand, we hired him.
Ms. Lawyer

Now you not only know exactly what you target customer wants, expects and hopes for, but you also know the words and the way they describe those details. This works for everything from writing to design to development.

Here’s an email I’ve sent to people to figure out why they hire web designers:


I see that you just had your website redesigned (which is GORGEOUS by the way).

Just wondering if I could ask you 3 questions about your experience with your web designer – it’ll take 5 minutes max and I can either send you the questions or we can hop on Skype.

Compliment (everyone likes those). Be brief (just a few sentences). Be specific (3 questions, 5 minutes, not a big time suck for them).

Once you’ve done 5 of these quick “interviews” you’ll be inside the head of the type of people you want to work with.

Here are a few examples that I’ve received when I’ve asked (these are answers from creative entrepreneurs with million-dollar or more online businesses):

I hired a designer that understands that sales is the ultimate measure of a good business site. If you don’t understand why I need a high contrast color for the most important button, you can’t work for me.

I’ve used a freelancer who does a good job at following directions. I decided to just lay everything out myself [wireframes] and hire a freelancer to design it and a freelancer to chop it up and make it work.

I picked my designer because she took the time to understand my business and really cared about the outcome of her design work after the website launched. I’ll hire her again because she quick to reply to my questions and I felt like she had my back.

What you’ll probably find is that what you thought was the most important thing when pitching your skills isn’t nearly the most important thing a potential client cares about.

Notice how none mentioned price. None mentioned specific programming abilities, responsiveness or trends (like flat design or parallax whatever). These business people want a web designer that positively impacts their bottom line and drives more business for them.

These are obviously specific examples for web designers, but it applies to any type of freelancing. Do the research, understand what your potential clients want and use that when pitching and marketing your work. No existing clients or experience in your industry required!

Another way to do a bit of quick and easy research is to talk to successful freelancers in your industry and ask them specific questions about how they get the work they do. Think about it this way: would you rather reply to an email from someone complimenting you on your work and success with a quick question, or reply to an email from someone you don’t know, asking you to give them work.

The quick question email technique is a great way to get your foot in the door too. You get a good piece of advice from a freelancer who knows their shit, you become a blip on their radar, and you’re seen by them as someone who wants to learn from them, not as someone begging for work.

Here’s an example I got the other day (which I replied to right away):

Hey Paul,

[Flattery] I read your article on sales advice and it helped me reframe how I pitch to clients, thank you!
[Question] I admire the work you do for your clients and was wondering if they’re more receptive to per-project pricing or per-hour pricing (and why)? If you’ve already written about it, just direct me to the article.

Kick ass,

[Your name] Paul Jarvis

[Personal] PS: I saw your rats on IG and had a white one when I was growing up!

10 Ideas to Get Clients when You’re Starting Out

In the beginning, aim for your just a handful of clients. One may be luck or a family friend (thanks mom!). A few clients means you’ve established a base of people who’ll give you money for your expertise. And just as importantly, you’ve learned what worked in terms of landing those clients, so you can use it the same techniques again and again.

Here are a few ideas on how to get those first few clients:

#1 Re-design a popular website and explain why you’ve made the changes you’ve made. Examples here, here, here and here. Which site should you redesign? Focus on the one the type of client you want to be hired by uses the most.

Facebook Redesign MockUp

LinkedIn Redesign Mockup

Why do this? A few reasons: first, you’ve flexing your chops as designer (for peers/industry). Second, you’re showing that you understand business and business goals and have specific ideas to make someone else’s business better (for clients). Third, you’re creating the type of work you want more of, based on the style and type of client.

#2 Job boards! We Work Remotely, Authentic Jobs, Smashing Jobs, Elance, Krop, and even Fiverr. In the beginning, become a fire-hose of pitches. Lead with solving their problem not boasting about your skills. If you’re starting out and just plain need the work, bid on anything – even if it’s less than what you want to make – everyone’s gotta start somewhere.

Side note: When I started my rates were quite low. Then I established a rule of thumb: Whenever I’m booked more than 2 months in advance for more than 2 months, my rates should go up. I’ve done this 5 times since I started and it’s always worked out well (as in: I make more but stay packed with work).

Why do this? When you start out you’ve not got a huge network. Responding to as many projects as you can gets your name and portfolio in front of as many people as possible. Even if you spend a few minutes before replying to a posting to learn a bit about the company, you’ll be miles ahead of everyone else. If you hear back from the company and they don’t hire you, ask if you can keep in touch. This is useful if they have future work or even others they can refer you to.

#3 Use your existing contacts. Fellow graduated classmates? Employees from the place you interned? Other freelancers you’ve established some rapport with? Send short and personal emails to everyone you know, telling them what are you freelancing for, and quickly describing the type of clients you’re looking for. you can even offer them a “finders fee” if their lead lands you a gig.

Here’s an example:

Hey [Name],

Did I tell you I’ve started doing freelance web design? Check out my portfolio here (list free sites or personal projects).

I know how connected you are to creative entrepreneurs, so I’m wondering if you knew anyone who may need a website? I can even sweeten the deal for you by offering you a finders fee as a token of my gratitude.

Notes: Mention what you do specifically, where they can see your work samples and the type of clients you are looking for. Be brief, make it easy for them to say yes with a finders fee.

#4 Talk to other freelancers in your field. These people aren’t competition, they’re your community. Introduce yourself. After you establish a bit of rapport, offer to help them or pick up their slack if they’re too busy to handle their own workload. There are countless networking events online and office. A good way to make connections with industry peers is to show how helpful you are.

Where do you find them? Social media, networking events, professional organizations (like AIGA) and associations (like Freelancers Union). If you went to school for what you’re freelancing, then keep in touch with classmates. If you work at a firm before you freelance, keep in touch with the people that worked at the firm – you’d be surprised how often I’ve been hired by folks I had worked with previously that moved onto other companies.

I get at least one email a day from another designer asking me for open-ended advice, telling me their life story in 10-pages, or pitching their work to me (so I can send them leads). I rarely reply because I don’t know them. I also get emails from other designers with beta-access to products they think I’ll like (because they listen to me on twitter) or sending me short and very specific questions that are easy for me to answer. I love replying to those.

I got this the other day:

Hey Paul, I saw your tweet yesterday about how you schedule tweets about your articles – this isn’t public yet, but check out my app [X] and grab a free account using this promo link [X].

Or this:

Paul, I know you’re busy and charge good money for consulting, but I’m just starting out as a web designer and had a question I hope you can answer:

How did you land your first client?

Hugs & backflips,

Another idea is to start a podcast or interview series. It’s promotion for the other party, so you may get more response with an offer to feature them. I stay in touch with most people that have interviewed me, because they started out by doing me a favor.

#5 Find the type of people you want to work with where they’re already hanging out. Networking events? Online communities? Find them, go to those places and start conversations. Be helpful, not pushy or salesy.

To list a few online communities for 3 industries:

Designers: Designer Chat, Sidebar, Designer News, Reddit Web Design
Programmers: Hacker News Slack, Hacker News, Reddit Web Dev
Writers/Content Marketers: Inbound, Copyblogger forum, Scribophile

#6 Create content! The more you talk about your expertise and how it benefits your potential audience, the easier it will be to establish your authority in your field. Start a blog, podcast, Youtube channel, etc. Too many freelancers focus their content on their own industry – create content that benefits your potential clients, not your peers.

The most effective way to become known by both your industry and the people that hire in your industry is by creating content. Start a blog, host a podcast, make YouTube videos, do product reviews, interview folks. Create consistent content that doesn’t suck and you will build a name for yourself.

Here are some specific ideas for what to blog about:
* What’s something you wish every client would know about the type of work you do.
* If clients ask for the same things (i.e. make the logo bigger) and they’re the wrong questions to ask, what can you teach them about the right questions to ask?
* What are some quick fixes clients could make to their business, based on your expertise?
* What are some success stories or case studies from work you’ve done?
* What resources can you share with clients? What books can be recommend?

#7 Start for free. As mentioned above, free work gets a bad wrap, but when you’re just starting out, sometimes it’s necessary to build your portfolio. Working for free is a lot more feasible if you’re still at a job that pays, where you can do it on the side.

How would I pitch someone on doing a free site? I’ve done this when pitching a few charities I believe in who had shitty websites. Charities are great first projects because most of them are great at what they do but awful at anything business.

Hi [Name],

I’m Paul Jarvis and I help businesses and nonprofits like yours do better and achieve more with their websites. I’ve donated to you for the past couple years because I know you do awesome work.

I have a vision for your website that will help you: build a large community of supports, increase your donations (and increase recurring donations) and even hopefully get you a bit of press.

Typically I charge $7,000 to design and develop a website, but I’d like to offer your my skills and problem solving abilities for free.

Can we setup a call next Tuesday (or whenever works for you), if you’re interested?

Both times I’ve used a script like this the other party has been so floored that I wanted to help them with their business they’ve given me free reigns. You actually see one of the charity sites I did right here.

Working for free is tricky, but has it’s place. You have to cautious and strategic when working for nothing. But if you’re trying to land your first freelance gig, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

  1. If you are doing a project for free, make sure the client understands that they’re hiring you for your vision and expertise. Just because the project is free doesn’t mean you’re simply a monkey to whatever they ask for. Make the logo bigger!
  2. Talk to the client before the project starts about getting a few referrals when the project is finished, since they’ll be happy with your work (make sure this is happens!). Also ensure you ask for a testimonial from them once the job is finished.
  3. Tell them what your “normal” rate is and tell them that if they’re pleased with the results, you’re more than happy to work for them again or for new projects at that rate.
  4. If you are working for free, make sure it’s in the niche you want to do more work in and it’s the type of client and project you want to do more work for.

Free work, in the absence of finding paying clients can also take the form of side projects or personal projects. These can be a great showcase of your skills and vision.

Personal Story: I got my first job from a personal project. I created (at the time) the world’s largest online slang dictionary. Tens of thousands of people submitted words to it, and it eventually got featured in national newspapers, radio shows and even WIRED magazine. This got the attention of an agency who then begged me to work for them.

#8 Create a product. If you’re a writer, create a guide that helps your type of clients create better content. If you’re a designer, write a how-to for how people that hire designers can make the project run smoother. If you’re a developer, build a quick app that helps your type of client accomplish a task faster. These products can be sold, but if you’re starting out, give them away for free. Make an email course, a printable PDF, even a web app.

Why do this? If you can build something of value, people will start using it and talking about it. If you make something that directly benefits the type of people you want to be hired by, they’ll see you as doing them a favour with the product and know your name.


My friend Nate Kontny created Draft.


Brennan Dunn created a little calculator to show how much per year doubling your hourly rate would bring it (and he has a product for sale too).


Tina Roth Eisenberg is so good at creating products, like Tattly, TeuxDeux, Creative Mornings and more she doesn’t need to do client work anymore.Tattly


To build my name as a writer, I created a free email course on book writing (2,000 signed up for it in the first few days).

Free Email Course on Book Writing

#9 Partner up! Find a freelancer that works in a related field with skills that compliment your own and see if you can work together on some projects. Designer? Partner up with a developer to offer a bigger solution. Writer? Partner up with a designer so you can write the content.

Although I know my way around WordPress, I can’t write an app from scratch. So on a few occasions I’ve partnered up with a developer to build everything from an iPhone app, an intranet from scratch and even a few drupal sites. Sometimes I’m the one bringing work to a programmer, but a few times programmers have brought work to me.

I also have a list of writers I trust to get my clients to hire. I know content makes or breaks websites and I know the difference a professional makes. So I always suggest content experts to all my design clients and most of those clients hire one.


#10 Make a list. With a defined niche, it makes it easier to source out prospects to get in touch with. Spend time each day researching companies that fit the profile. Introduce yourself to them. Even if they don’t hire you, they now know your name.How do you pick a niche to focus on? Think about these questions:

  1. What industry do you actually use products from or enjoy?
  2. What industry hires freelancers with skills like yours?
  3. What industry would you enjoy networking in and actually being a part of?

Here’s some more picking an audience wisely from Justin Jackson. Here’s the gist:

I have a friend who wanted to build a product for real estate agents.

I asked him: “Do you hang out with real estate agents?”

He answered: “Well, no.”

I continued: “Do you like going to real estate conferences, trade shows, and workshops?”

Again he replied: “No. I’ve never gone to anything like that. Why would I? I’m a software developer.”

“If you don’t like hanging out with them now,” I asked, “are you sure you’re going to want to serve them (every day) from now on?”

Before You Pitch Anyone, Do Your Homework

This is an idea conceived by Ramit Sethi, called the briefcase technique. Basically, it goes something like this: when you’re pitching a client, bring already-written notes about what you would do to make their business better as it applies to your expertise. People are impressed with anyone that’s done their homework.

I’ve used a similar technique for decades. I always ask as many smart questions as I can when I’m talking to potential clients to understand their business and think of perfect solutions for them that use my skills. I also show them that I’ve done my research about their company specifically and know how I can help.

An example from one of the latest website pitches I won is below. The client is a writer, editor and writing coach. After listening to her tell me about the website she wanted (and since I had done my homework), I ran through a list of solutions for her. I told them to her on the phone, but I also documented them. In summary:

After spending a few hours going over your current site and researching your industry, here are just a few ideas I have for what I can do for your website:

  1. Your mailing list is only on the sidebar, near the bottom and asks for 5 fields to be filled in. Let’s shorten this to 2 fields (name and email), create a landing page for subscribing and put it at the bottom of each article. I’ve done this on my own site and increased signups by 50%.

  2. Your homepage is 24 paragraphs without headings or breaks. If we re-write this to include headline (20% of people read all content on pages, whereas 80% read headlines) and shorten it to be focused on one clear goal, we can direct people to your product faster.

  3. Let’s take your product sales page and remove the navigation and sidebar. This will make your audience have to focus on the product. We can also add screenshots from it and I can design a really great way to showcase testimonials with photos. This will help build social proof you need to increase conversions. The last website I did for a client that used these techniques increased purchases by 34% in the first week.

  4. You currently have 15 links in your top navigation. If we shorten this to the most important 4-5 (the pages that either capture email addresses, sell products or give your back story), people will more likely get to those pages. We can always link to the other 10 pages in the footer.

Here’s the final result:

Pam Smith

This only took 15 minutes to research, and I know the above points work because I talked to previous clients about how my designs impacted their business. Even if you don’t have that data, you can always find industry data online.

The key to winning pitches and making potential clients want to work with you is showing them that you care about their specific business and have ideas for making it better.

When you’re starting out it’s important to talk to as many people as you can about finding work. Ruth Zive of Marketing Wise has a 10-before–10 rule when she started as a freelancer writer. Basically, she’s make sure she has pitched ten publications or potential clients before 10am, every day.

Armed with the research you’ve got from your interviews, when you reach out to potential clients, use that language and focus on solving the right type of problems they might be having. If you do get a meeting or call with them, use the briefcase technique to show that you’ve taken the time to learn about their business.

Is it a lot of work? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.

You can also use those people you interviewed as leads for referrals. Once you’ve put up a website, get in touch with them again. Thank them for taking the time to do the interview and let them know that with their help, expertise and knowledge you’ve launched your business. Perhaps they’ve got a friend or colleague who could use your services?

How did you land your first freelance client?  Leave a comment.The best or most interesting response posted in the comments will receive a signed copy of my latest book The Good Creative.

Click here to access Paul’s Template to Create Your First Contract

Paul Jarvis is a web designer, bestselling author and gentleman of adventure. He writes shit-hot tips like this article and other advice on freelancing for his newsletter every Sunday (bonus: you also get a huge discount on The Good Creative when you sign up).


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the expert curse http://okdork.com/2014/07/15/the-expert-curse/ http://okdork.com/2014/07/15/the-expert-curse/#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 01:50:13 +0000 http://okdork.com/?p=5395 at a dinner with my friend tucker i confided with him i was overwhelmed working on okdork.

when you start out in your business and do crazy things or experiment and it works or doesn’t, who cares. there’s no one to watch you fall. you’re just playing around without expectations.

one of my favorite quotes recently relates to this expression. it’s from steve jobs.

“the heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again.”

this speaks it so eloquently.

the [...]]]> at a dinner with my friend tucker i confided with him i was overwhelmed working on okdork.

when you start out in your business and do crazy things or experiment and it works or doesn’t, who cares. there’s no one to watch you fall. you’re just playing around without expectations.

one of my favorite quotes recently relates to this expression. it’s from steve jobs.

“the heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again.”

this speaks it so eloquently.

the more we add expectations the more others expect of us.

letting all that go releases us back to freedom and the enjoyment for when we started our ventures.

my good buddy adam says it well about that process:

“many successful people stop doing the things that made them successful.”

that’s very true for marketing.

you did guest posts, interviews and such to get your site to where it is. yet you stopped doing them and now you wonder why your traffic is down.

i think that applies to almost 100% of you. i know it does for me.

it’s challenging when you create for yourself and your own goals versus the expectations of others.

let me be real with you.

i need you.

okay, i want you. i can live without you.

same for you with your customers.

when you create or service someone (don’t be perverted) and they genuinely thank you for your work there may not be anything greater in life.

but then you get more praise and more recognition.

you think you are great. you may eventually be called an expert by some people.

tucker said this amazingly well, “the moment you become an expert you stop learning.”

you take your expert ways and fit the world to look through those lenses.

the expectations of others pushes me to create better articles and stress out to make sure each post gets more shares, comments, opens, email subscribers than the past.

and when it doesn’t, then it was a flop. a waste of time. my ego is deflated.

all along okdork has been my expression for learning and sharing things related to marketing and starting a business.

so where is the balance from outputting 400 word articles relating to my depression or this post that’s not exactly about marketing vs 3000+ word marketing posts that take 40+ hours with editing and hoping to get the amount of new subscribers to make it worth it.

for me…at this point and at points with appsumo and now with sumome.com (our latest flagship product) i go back to one simple way of looking at it.


you could say this is the why.

am i having fun with the work i’m doing?? ask yourself that…

  • is it keeping me up at 11pm to edit the article or bug someone profusely cause i can’t wait to share what they are writing?
  • is it a challenge to experiment successfully or not new ways that may get new subscribers because I’m curious?
  • is it exciting to see that even 1 person appreciated something even though open rates don’t reflect that all the okdorkians loved it?
  • is it enough that I’m happy with what I’m doing?

lately i keep thinking about the output we do during the week and how it’s reflected when we die.

all of our generation wants to feel meaning.

unfortunately there is no scorecard regardless of how much money you have when we die.

you just die and its over.

so 3 more blog posts or 100 new subscribers unfortunately won’t get you a plot that much closer to heaven.

all that matters is that you feel fulfilled with what you are creating.

loving the work you do.

having fun with what you are doing.

being true to yourself.

so what does that mean in terms of real action, for me:

  • it’s occasionally posting shorter articles i am proud of and believe will benefit your lives. like this one
  • experimenting with newer marketing activities so i can find the things that work and don’t, then share them with you.
  • continued playfulness.
  • spelling errors and doing an entire email without 1 capitalization. yea, like that :)

tell me what’s fun for you to work on in the comments!



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How to Connect with VIPs: 5 Tips for Cold Emails http://okdork.com/2014/07/08/how-to-email-a-busy-vip-5-tips-for-connecting-with-a-cold-email/ http://okdork.com/2014/07/08/how-to-email-a-busy-vip-5-tips-for-connecting-with-a-cold-email/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 10:00:23 +0000 http://okdork.com/?p=5062 This is a guest post by John Corcoran.

Let’s get one thing straight: Noah Kagan really has no business sending me cookies.

Noah is busy running AppSumo, training new entrepreneurs and riding bikes around Austin sampling tacos. Until recently, he had no idea who I was.

And yet here I was, opening my mail to find a box of chocolate chip cookies, with a thank you note from Noah Kagan.

So why did Noah send me cookies?

Well, it all started with an email that [...]]]> This is a guest post by John Corcoran.

Let’s get one thing straight: Noah Kagan really has no business sending me cookies.

Noah is busy running AppSumo, training new entrepreneurs and riding bikes around Austin sampling tacos. Until recently, he had no idea who I was.

And yet here I was, opening my mail to find a box of chocolate chip cookies, with a thank you note from Noah Kagan.

So why did Noah send me cookies?

Well, it all started with an email that got his attention.

Because of that one email, I interviewed him for a guest post I was writing, got him to come on my podcast, got valuable feedback from him on my blog, and now I’m writing a guest post on his personal website.

We’re even going to ride Go Carts and get snowcones the next time he’s in town. (Wait… did I say that out loud?)

It was all because of one successful email.

Seems pretty simple to get the attention of a busy entrepreneur, right?

Wrong. Getting the attention of a busy person like Noah is easier said than done.

I’ve sent plenty of emails to busy entrepreneurs like Noah that resulted in nada. Zip. Zero response.

But I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work, and now I want to share it with you.

In fact, Noah Kagan should be the hardest of all to get a response from, because if anyone knows a good email from a bad one, it’s Noah.

He receives dozens of cold emails per month asking for something from him. AppSumo has an email list of 700,000+ a kajillion subscribers and sends millions of emails per month, and they got so good at sending effective emails that they actually sell email templates.

If email was a science, Noah would have a doctorate of emailology.

So he knows his stuff when it comes to email.

So how did my email get Noah’s attention?

The email I sent which managed to grab Noah’s attention was actually a perfect example of an effective email to a busy person who receives dozens or hundreds of messages and requests for their time each week.

So you probably want to see the actual email, right?

Hold your horses, chico. I’ll share that in a moment.

But first, let’s discuss why being able to craft and send effective emails that get an actual live response even matters.

Why You Need to Master Email

In To Sell Is Human, Dan Pink argues that workers spend a larger portion of their time today persuading, negotiating, and pitching, than ever before, and much of this work is done by email.

In a study Pink commissioned for the book, workers reported that they spent 40 percent of their work time trying to move someone to part with resources of some kind (what Pink calls “non-sales selling”), and much of that is accomplished using email.

At the same time, we’re all used to being bombarded with email messages aimed at convincing us to do something, which is why it is so difficult to break through.

In fact, your success at work is dependent on your ability to communicate, and your income is a reflection of that. So being able to email a busy person and get the response you desire is literally a skill you need to know to increase your income.

Now let’s take a look at my email to Noah and why it worked. Then I’m going to share five tips for how you can use email effectively to get the attention of any busy VIP, whether it’s a successful entrepreneur, a potential boss, a girl you like, or just someone you want to get to know.

The Email That Got Noah’s Attention

This actually wasn’t the first time I tried to contact Noah. I had tried to interview Noah a few years earlier.

When I first tried to contact him, I made all the wrong mistakes. He had no idea who I was. I had no insider connections. I did not clearly articulate how I could benefit Noah. I was just another no-name blogger with little to offer.

I also sent the email not to Noah, but to someone on his staff who quickly sized me up and turned down my request for an interview. Noah probably never heard about the request personally. Even if he had, he would have been right to turn me down.

So here was my most recent email which got Noah’s attention. Below, I’m going to break down why it worked so effectively.

Note: I forgot to link to the second Forbes piece but apparently that didn’t matter. The point was to demonstrate I had a connection to Noah’s friend Ramit Sethi, who, like Noah, is also a busy entrepreneur, only more Indian.

Now let’s take a closer look at this email and why it worked.

The Subject Line Was Relevant

The subject line I used was relevant because it reminded Noah how he knew me – I had mentioned him in an Art of Manliness guest post I wrote that had been published a week earlier.

You want the subject line to quickly tell your recipient either why they would benefit from opening your email and/or how they know you.

Another option for the subject line would have been something like “Friend of Andrew Warner” or “Hey Noah – John from Art of Manliness here.”

The Benefit Was Clearly Articulated

In this email, I clearly articulated the benefit to Noah. I wanted to interview him for Art of Manliness, which I guessed he probably already knew is a very high-traffic blog with a passionate reader base that has the potential to send OKDork and AppSumo new traffic and new readers.

It turned out Noah was very familiar with Art of Manliness. Part of the reason he was excited about being interviewed for the site was because, he later told me, “his brother reads Art of Manliness and loves it.” I didn’t know this at the time, but it helped me.

The Time Commitment Was Short

I said the interview would take only 5-7 minutes of his time. If you’re asking for something, you want to make the commitment so small and the benefit so great, they can’t possibly pass it up.

I think Noah probably realized it was likely the interview would run longer than 5-7 minutes, but it’s good to demonstrate your willingness to keep the time demand commitment short out of respect for your recipient’s time.

And in fact, when I did interview Noah, I offered multiple times to cut off the interview but he allowed it to go longer.

The Email Message Itself Answered All Questions

My email message provided all of the details Noah would need in order for him to make a decision about my interview request. In addition, my request was unusual – I specifically wanted to ask him about failure. I didn’t make a generic request for an interview about “what tips he would give entrepreneurs who are starting out” which he probably receives all the time.

I go into additional tips for what you should include in the content of your emails below.

5 Tips for Creating Successful Cold Emails

Now, I want to share five specific tips for how you can create successful cold emails that break through and get the results you want.

1.  Grease the Wheels Ahead of Time

One of the best things you can do before emailing someone cold is to get them to get to know you through other channels, particularly through social media.  I call this “greasing the wheels.”

When Noah received my email on January 16th, it wasn’t the first time he had seen my name. He knew my name from Art of Manliness and from Twitter. Also, a few months earlier, I had included him in a post I co-authored in Forbes, which I then sent to him via Twitter:

Then, when I mentioned him in the Art of Manliness guest post in early January, he actually tweeted me to thank me:

This was the opportunity I needed to reach out and request a one-on-one interview. However, I didn’t want to jump too quickly because that would have just seemed sad and perhaps a little desperate.

So I waited to exchange a few messages on Twitter a few days later:

(That tweet seems kind of annoying and know-it-all in retrospect.) 

Then, finally, on January 17th, I sent my email to Noah requesting an interview. Because he had recently seen my name a couple of times, it was less of a cold email.

2.  Be Brief

One of the best things you can do when emailing a busy person is to keep your email very short. Even though most people have heard this tip, I am still shocked at the incredibly long emails I receive, and I probably receive a small fraction of the email traffic Noah receives.

I’ll even let you in on a little secret: sometimes, I will even intentionally break up everything I want to say into multiple emails so that I don’t overwhelm in my initial email.

Here’s what the sequence might look like:

Email #1: Attention getter, i.e. a sincere compliment

The point of the first email is simply to get a response. I may use a sincere compliment or perhaps mention the person in a blog post I’ve written and then email them to tell the person about it.

Email #2: Make Personal Connection Over Something You have in Common

In your second email (or first “reply” email), you want to continue the conversation by making a personal connection.

If you mentioned in your first email that you are both from San Francisco, then in this reply email you may continue discussing common interests, such as, “too bad about the 49ers this year” or “I just can’t get a decent burrito ever since I moved from the Mission to the Haight.”

Email #3: Real Purpose for Emailing the VIP

It’s not until the third email that I actually bring up the real purpose for my email. Why? Because if you’ve already made a personal connection and deepened it, then the VIP is more primed to say “yes” to your request at this point.

3.  Communicate How You Will Benefit THEM.

Noah has already written about this but it bears repeating. It doesn’t matter what you want, it only matters what you can do for the person you’re emailing.

In other words, you may soooo want Justin Bieber just to like you but if you email him to tell him that, you don’t have a chance. If you want your email to get the Biebs’ attention (or anyone else’s attention for that matter), you need to talk about what’s in it for them.

There are many ways to do this:

  • ask to interview the person and publish it on a website, in a newsletter, or on a podcast.
  • help spread the word about a person’s new book, new product, or new business
  • offer to introduce the person to someone else who they might want to meet (such as when I introduced Noah to Brett McKay and Jon Morrow)
  • give them a tip related to a personal hobby. For example, I might give Noah a recommendation of where he can get a killer taco the next time he’s in San Francisco.
  • forward along the resume of a qualified candidate for a job opening with their company.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

4.  Make it Fun

Another great approach is to demonstrate that you have a personality and a sense of humor in your email. While I wouldn’t recommend emailing a busy person solely with the goal of making them laugh, it is a good idea to keep things light in your email.

Noah clearly is someone who likes to have fun in life, so this was crucial.

For example, I recently introduced Maneesh Sethi to Brett McKay, founder of Art of Manliness.

Maneesh’s first email to Brett cracked me up:

(Although this was a follow up email rather than a cold email, it was like a cold email in that it was Maneesh’s first point of contact with Brett.)

When you show you have a sense of humor, you send a message: hey, this might be kinda fun.

5.  Find Things You Have in Common

Finally, one of the best ways to make a connection with any busy VIP is by finding what you have in common. It is much more difficult to ignore a cold email if it’s from someone who you share something in common with, such as you’re from the same hometown or you have a friend in common, or you lived in the same city around the same time.

I actually used four out of five of these tips in an email I sent to bestselling author Dan Pink.

I had previously communicated with Dan via social media, my email was short and to the point, I communicated the benefits for Dan to connecting with me, and I mentioned what we had in common. If I had made the email a little less dry and a little more fun, then I would have hit 5 out of 5.

(BTW not long after I sent this email, I had Dan on as a guest on my podcast — twice.)

Get Started Connecting

One of the best things I’ve done in my career is spending time reaching out to interesting, successful people, and many of the people I’ve reached out to have become great friends.

Nearly every job I’ve gotten – from working on one of DreamWorks’ first projects over a summer during college to working at the White House – has come from reaching out to someone more successful than me. None of these opportunities would have come along if I hadn’t taken a chance.

So I want to encourage you to go out there and send some cold emails. Not because I want you to bug busy VIPs like Noah, but because I want you to make some genuine connections that are beneficial to all around.

Most importantly, aim for the stars – don’t settle for reaching too low because the person you really want to meet is “too successful” or “too important” to ever respond to you.

The Biebs will be waiting.

BONUS: Click to download “5 Killer Cold Email Templates” here

John Corcoran is an attorney and former Clinton White House Writer and he really isn’t stalking Noah Kagan, promise. He does however have two free reports for you – get 5 Killer “Cold Email” Templates you can use right away, and also his 52+ page guide How to Increase Your Income Today by Building Relationships with Influencers, Even if you Hate Networking.

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If You Don’t Like Your Life, Change It! – Book Review http://okdork.com/2014/06/28/if-you-dont-like-your-life-change-it-book-review/ http://okdork.com/2014/06/28/if-you-dont-like-your-life-change-it-book-review/#comments Sat, 28 Jun 2014 18:21:39 +0000 http://okdork.com/?p=5276 I recently picked up Yehuda Berg’s new book If You Don’t Like Your Life, Change It! Instead of writing up a summary or a regular review, I want to share some of the insights I picked up as I read it. Enjoy!

The size of greatness inside of you is measure by the challenges you overcome.

If you have problems with a co-worker for example, what lesson is that unpleasant colleague here to teach [...]]]> I recently picked up Yehuda Berg’s new book If You Don’t Like Your Life, Change It! Instead of writing up a summary or a regular review, I want to share some of the insights I picked up as I read it. Enjoy!

If You Don't Like Your Life Change It Yehuda Berg

The size of greatness inside of you is measure by the challenges you overcome.

If you have problems with a co-worker for example, what lesson is that unpleasant colleague here to teach me? To learn patience or new communication skills?

Difficult situations are like flags indicating where your soul’s work lies.

Repetition is the best way to reinforce a new neural pathway in the brain.

If you died today, what legacy would you leave behind?

Fight the desire to make excuses. Take ownership.

What specific parts of your life are the least fulfilling? Look at the good side of these issues, what would you see??

Where and who do I relate to people in the same way that I relate to my parents? Map out where your parents consistently come into conflict with you and where and how those same issues show up in their dealings with other people.

See your parents as people in their own right.

Take whatever your parents gave you by the way of a childhood, find the good in it, and apply that to what you want to do with your life.

See the times you felt hurt and victimized as actual blessings. What lessons have you learned from the way they raised you or didn’t raise you?

The size of the transformation or the degree of difficulty to be surmounted, determines how much Light is revealed.

Other people provide the best ways to find the root cause of our own ego, moments when they’re pushing our buttons.

Keep asking yourself: What am I supposed to learn from this?

The universe cannot judge us until we judge somebody else. No negative energy.

Our addictions tell us where our garbage is, so we can clean it up.

You can never drink enough alcohol if you’re an alcoholic. Addiction begins with awareness of our underlying thoughts.

Where am I addicted to another person’s approval?

Try being completely silent for 6-12 hours. By giving up another important activity for this, you will prove to yourself that you can reassert self-control.

Where do your thoughts come from? If you’re focused on personal transformation, tolerance and compassion, these are the kinds of thoughts you’re going to draw down.

By doing things that take us outside of ordinary thinking, we can access previously untapped parts of our awareness.

Light becomes internalized when we work through our pain, when we break through our patterns, when we stop seeking approval, when we share selflessly.

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The Samuel L. Jackson Marketing Hack http://okdork.com/2014/06/18/the-samuel-l-jackson-marketing-hack/ http://okdork.com/2014/06/18/the-samuel-l-jackson-marketing-hack/#comments Wed, 18 Jun 2014 14:30:34 +0000 http://okdork.com/?p=5133 Who clicks ‘forward to a friend’ to a friend these days?

Most people NEVER forward email to friends. People are lazy mofos! (get ‘em Sam Jackson)

Today, I want to show you how you can use this simple and effective technique.

I call it the “Samuel L. Jackson Marketing Hack”

Most people:

1- Read emails in an email client.

2- Have friends. I’m looking at you Neville (Mr. 5000+ friend everyone)

3- Want to send cool things to their friends.

4- Are lazy mofos, as scientifically stated by [...]]]> Who clicks ‘forward to a friend’ to a friend these days?

Most people NEVER forward email to friends. People are lazy mofos! (get ‘em Sam Jackson)

Today, I want to show you how you can use this simple and effective technique.

I call it the “Samuel L. Jackson Marketing Hack”

OkDork Samuel L Jackson Marketing

Most people:

1- Read emails in an email client.

2- Have friends. I’m looking at you Neville (Mr. 5000+ friend everyone)

3- Want to send cool things to their friends.

4- Are lazy mofos, as scientifically stated by Sam Jackson.

So how does the Sam Jackson Marketing hack work?

A) In your emails, add a simple “Mailto:” link so that your readers can easily click and it’ll make a new templated email for them to send to a friend. (The exact instructions are below.)



In the the link we added it automatically created an email like this:

Email Like This

Sexy times!

Now all the person has to do is add the recipient’s email address and hit send.

The easier you make it for someone to take an action, the more likely they are to take it.

* * *

In Summer of Marketing, you’ll learn big strategic ideas and you’ll also learn small hacks, just like this, to reach your goals within 12 weeks.

If you haven’t joined (it’s free), go here: http://SummerOfMarketing.com

Watch the video below to learn how to exactly set it up for your emails:

Written Instructions to Set Up Your Own “Mailto:” Link:

Step 1: Decide exactly what you want the email to accomplish. What is the objective? What is the call to action?

Step 2: Write out your subject line and body text. Keep it short. Include a link in the body so the recipient can visit the landing page or website you want to drive traffic to.

Step 3: Take that same text and drop it into this handy Encoder. If it’s easier, add your subject line and body text separately. Click “encode.” This will add all kinds of crazy code between the words (e.g. %20 for a space or %0A%0A for a line break). Before you use it make sure your subject and body are good to go.

Step 4: Next, in a plain text editor, copy the text from the Encoder and drop it into the following formula to create your automagic, Samuel L. Jackson email: mailto:?subject=PASTE SUBJECT HERE&body=PASTE BODY HERE

Step 5: Now test it. Hyperlink a word (just like you would a website) with “mailto:?subject……” and click it. Make sure that it opens up a brand new email with the subject and body filled out.

Tip: If you want the “to:” field to be filled out with a particular address just add the email address before the question mark (e.g. mailto:Tyler[at]OkDork.com?subject=….)

Bonus Tip: Use Ctrl-K or ⌘-K to hyperlink a word quickly in almost any program or editor.

Step 6: Hyperlink the text in in your email or webpage.

Here’s the exact code we used in Monday’s email introducing Summer of Marketing email:

* * *
Next time you want your friends to share your new eBook or awesome widget try this technique. You’ll make their lives easier and your sales a bit easier too…

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Free, 12 Week Marketing Course – Summer of Marketing http://okdork.com/2014/06/16/introducing-summer-of-marketing/ http://okdork.com/2014/06/16/introducing-summer-of-marketing/#comments Mon, 16 Jun 2014 14:25:15 +0000 http://okdork.com/?p=5108 Let’s face it, marketing is hard.

It’s the science of making something people want, knowing WHO they are and WHERE they are.

Today I have something special for you. My new (free) course on Marketing launched this morning.

It’s called Summer of Marketing and is open for the next 168 hours (aka 7 days).

For 12 weeks you’ll get: * An actionable marketing lesson with key takeaways * An exact exercise to solidify the lesson * And, for a few lucky people, personal accountability and mentorship to make [...]]]> Let’s face it, marketing is hard.

It’s the science of making something people want, knowing WHO they are and WHERE they are.

Today I have something special for you. My new (free) course on Marketing launched this morning.

It’s called Summer of Marketing and is open for the next 168 hours (aka 7 days).

For 12 weeks you’ll get:
* An actionable marketing lesson with key takeaways
* An exact exercise to solidify the lesson
* And, for a few lucky people, personal accountability and mentorship to make sure you’re following through.

(Check out the VIP option after you sign up.)

If you’ve been following OkDork for awhile and picked up marketing tactics, you’ll be challenged to put the tactics into action and develop your skillz.

For new readers, that are just getting started, you’re in for a real treat.

The course will take you from nothing to 10,000+ visitors.

So IF you are willing to work hard…

After 12 weeks you’ll be a better marketer, and let’s face it, probably a better person…no promises :)

Check out what each week holds at www.summerofmarketing.com

It’s 100% free (unless you want the valuable VIP Premium option).


P.S. Remember the first email you ever got from me?

I asked “If I could write about 1 thing to make your day better, what would it be?”

Other than being asked about tacos, I get a ton of questions asking me:

* “What’s the best way to get started with marketing?”

* “Can you help me get a ton of customers and followers for my product/service/widget/startup/band?”

If you know ANYONE that has asked you a question like this, please let them know about Summer of Marketing with by tweeting about the course. 

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